The Russian president cannot meet his Ukrainian counterpart until issues plaguing relations are resolved, the Kremlin said on Sunday, according to Reuters.

The terse statement was the latest in a long series of criticisms aimed at Ukraine`s pro-Western leadership, particularly President Viktor Yushchenko`s drive to secure NATO membership for his former Soviet republic.

It also amounted to a rebuff to an invitation Yushchenko had issued by telephone for Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev to visit Kiev before the end of the year.

The statement said the leaders had spoken on Sunday, with the Russian side pointing to `a whole string of problems in bilateral relations requiring thorough, constructive work by experts to be resolved without politicisation...

`It was noted that concrete dates for high-level contacts can be discussed once these issues have been resolved.`

Relations between Kiev and Moscow have been strained since mass `Orange Revolution` protests brought Yushchenko to power in 2004, defeating a candidate backed by the Kremlin.

The foreign ministry in Moscow this week accused Ukraine of pursuing policies `that we can only assess as unfriendly towards Russia`.

Russia is particularly aggrieved at the prospect of both Ukraine and Georgia one day gaining entry to NATO -- as pledged by alliance leaders at a summit in April.

It is also unhappy at Yushchenko`s denunciation of Moscow`s intervention in Georgia last month and his calls for the departure of Russia`s Black Sea fleet from Ukraine`s Crimea peninsula once its lease on a naval base expires in 2017.

Other irritants include Ukraine`s reassessment of the Soviet-era version of the region`s 20th century history and accusations that Ukraine`s policies victimise Ukraine`s many ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers.

Yushchenko and other Ukrainian leaders say membership of international alliances is an internal matter and deny any suggestion of discriminatory policies against Russians.

In a statement issued in Kiev earlier on Sunday, Yushchenko`s office said the president had raised what it called a Russian proposal for the two leaders to meet in Kiev later this year and that Medevedev had accepted.

It also said the two leaders welcomed forthcoming talks on the future of the Black Sea fleet and `confirmed Ukraine`s readiness to proceed with constructive dialogue`.


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