Moscow said on Tuesday that President Medvedev's decision to delay the sending of a new ambassador to Ukraine did not signal a break or freeze in relations with Kiev, Ria Novosti reported.

"There can be no talk of any break in diplomatic ties or a freeze," Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko said.

In a video message to his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, Dmitry Medvedev said earlier on Tuesday he was holding off sending Russia's new ambassador to Ukraine, former health minister Mikhail Zurabov, over Kiev's anti-Russian policies.

Explaining Medvedev's message, the Kremlin aide said it conveyed "deep concern on the part of the Russian authorities and our citizens over the situation with Russian-Ukrainian ties, primarily political, formed as a result of purposeful actions by the Ukrainian political leadership."

He also said Kiev had taken the path toward the rejection of "mutually-advantageous, open and equal cooperation" with Moscow.

Relations between the two former Soviet republics have been strained in recent years over gas supplies, Ukraine's desire to join NATO, and the Soviet-era famine in Ukraine.

Ukraine and the European Union agreed in March to modernize the ex-Soviet state's natural gas pipeline network. Russia, which transits about 80% of its Europe-bound gas via Ukraine, said it was excluded from the talks in Brussels.

Ukraine's acting foreign minister, Volodymyr Khandogiy, said on Tuesday he was disappointed with the delay in Zurabov's arrival in Ukraine.

"It is not humiliating for me personally, it can only provoke my disappointment," the Ukrainian UNIAN news agency quoted Khandogiy as saying.

A Ukrainian political analyst said Medvedev's "unprecedented" move was a signal that there would now be limited contacts with the Ukrainian president and ministries.

"I would say [relations will be frozen] until the inauguration of a new Ukrainian president," said Mykhailo Pohrebinskiy, director of the Kiev-based Center for Political Research and Conflict Studies.

Presidential polls in Ukraine are slated for January 17. Yushchenko's popularity is currently in single digits.


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