MOSCOW, Dec. 3 – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who maintains a good working relationship with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, on Thursday denied speculation that Russia would back her bid for the Ukrainian presidency.
The comment was made days after Sviatoslav Oliynyk, a Tymoshenko ally, told a Russian newspaper that Russia would probably support Tymoshenko over other candidates.
“I do not support Yulia Tymoshenko at the presidential election,” Putin said in a Russian television show called ‘The Conversation with Vladimir Putin.’ “But we, as prime ministers, have a huge level of cooperation. We have a plan for joint work, and we are fulfilling it.”
Any affiliation with Putin may be damaging for Tymoshenko ahead of the election since she has been mostly positioning herself as a pro-Western – as opposed to pro-Russian – leader.
But many politicians in Ukraine have been pointing to an increasing number of government orders that de-facto benefit Russian interests, including the blocking of Caspian Sea oil imports in July 2008.
President Viktor Yushchenko recently said Tymoshenko promised Putin last week to postpone Ukraine’s accession to NATO and to allow Russian naval fleet to stay in Sevastopol beyond 2017, when the 20-year lease term expires, in the event of winning the presidency.
In Ukraine, the president is in charge of the country’s foreign and defense policies, while the prime minister is responsible for domestic and economic policies.
The issue appeared to be in focus after the interview that Oliynyk has given to Russian daily Kommersant saying that the Kremlin “will support Tymoshenko.”
Oliynyk is thought to be a close ally of Viktor Medvedchuk, a former powerful chief of staff of Leonid Kuchma, a former Ukrainian president. Medvedchuk has been closely working with Tymoshenko over the past several years, people familiar with the situation said.
Medvedchuk, who is thought to be the mastermind of massive election fraud in 2004 that been apparently aimed at preventing election of Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency, is known to have close personal relationship with Russian leaders. Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has been essentially boycotting Yushchenko, rejecting his calls for a meting over the past 18 months.
By contrast, Putin has met Tymoshenko at least four times over the past 11 months. (tl/ez)