Kremlin-friendly candidate takes lead in Ukraine
A former convict and Kremlin-friendly bureaucrat was on course last night to win Ukraine's presidential election, ending the country's brief flirtation with the West.
Initial exit polls put Viktor Yanukovych, a Soviet-style politician, three to five percentage points ahead of Yulia Tymoshenko, his bitter rival and the current prime minister. A fuller picture is expected today, when 80pc of the votes are likely to have been counted.
A Yanukovych victory would sound a death knell for the country's 2004 Orange Revolution that set it firmly on a pro-Western course, but failed to deliver meaningful changes or improve people's lives.
It could also usher in a fresh period of instability, as Mrs Tymoshenko has hinted she may refuse to accept the result if she deems there was large-scale fraud. She has also threatened to incite street protests.
Before the vote, Hrihoriy Nemyria, a deputy prime minister and an ally of Mrs Tymoshenko, said that a victory for Mr Yanukovych (59) would be a disaster for Ukraine, a strategically crucial gas-transit country sandwiched between Russia and the European Union. "He does not accept the bedrock principle of democracy," he said.
"His policies are about freezing Ukraine in a grey zone between Russia and the EU. He is not a moderniser."
Mr Yanukovych's advisers insist he is not the Kremlin stooge he is often made out to be, though they admit his policies are likely to be more palatable to the Kremlin than those of outgoing president Viktor Yushchenko.
"We're also interested in European integration," said Anna German, an MP and adviser. (© Daily Telegraph, London)