President Dmitry Medvedev launched a Kremlin drive to bring Ukraine into its fold on Tuesday as he waded into the country’s presidential elections with a call for a new leader to break with the “anti-Russian” policies of the incumbent and to co-operate with Moscow, Financial Times reported.

In an open letter to Viktor Yushchenko, neighbouring Ukraine’s pro-western president, the Russian leader refused to renew diplomatic ties by saying he was postponing the dispatch of a new ambassador to Kiev until there was a change in relations.

Mr Medvedev criticised Mr Yushchenko for pursuing anti-Russian policies that include arming Georgia in its war against Russia last year and pursuing Ukraine’s entry into Nato while “ignoring the opinion of your country’s citizens”. In his strongest attack yet against Mr Yushchenko, Mr Medvedev accused him of putting gas supplies to Europe at risk and departing “from the principles of friendship and partnership with Russia”.

“We have the impression that Kiev consistently seeks to break traditional economic ties with Russia, first and foremost in the energy sector,” said Mr Medvedev. “Russia hopes a new Ukrainian leadership will be ready to build ties between our countries, ties that will indeed answer the true hopes of our peoples in the interests of strengthening European security.”

The Russian leader’s letter appears to mark the start of a Kremlin push to reassert influence over Ukraine. It also appears to be an attempt to draw a line under the pro-western presidency of Mr Yushchenko ahead of elections in January 2010, which he is predicted to lose.

Russia blames Mr Yushchenko for two gas disputes that left millions of Europeans without fuel and led to European Union accusations that Russia was using gas as a political weapon.

The letter, coming a year after Russia went to war with Georgia over the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, signals a fresh bid by Moscow to maintain influence over its neighbours.

“It is a message to any new leader that we will deal with you only when you accept our demands – and the demands are made very clear: do not enter Nato and accept Russia’s energy rules,” said Lilia Shevtsova, a senior analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Centre.

Vadym Karasyov, a political adviser to Ukraine’s president, said the decision to withhold a new ambassador could be seen as a temporary “break in diplomatic relations” and a warning to Kiev’s next president “that Russia has a veto on Ukraine’s foreign policy”.

“They are saying essentially that Ukraine only has the right to exist as an independent state if it plays by Russia’s rules,” said Mr Karasyov. “Their aim is to change Ukraine’s foreign policy, reversing it 180 degrees to a pro-Russian stance.”


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