Russian President Dmitry Medvedev congratulated Ukraine’s opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych on his victory in the presidential race, even as Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has refused to concede defeat.

Mr. Medvedev, the first among world leaders, called Mr. Yanukovych on Tuesday to congratulate him “on the conclusion of the election campaign”, said the Kremlin press service. The gesture signalled Moscow’s happiness at the victory of a candidate who promised to rebuild close ties with Russia that severely suffered under the outgoing pro-West President Viktor Yushchenko.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Moscow hoped the new leadership in “friendly” Ukraine will “facilitate full-fledged and all-round development of truly good-neighbourly Russian-Ukrainian relations”.

With almost all votes counted Mr. Yanukovych was leading by a 3.47 per cent margin. However, Ms. Tymoshenko vowed to challenge her rival’s win. She was reported as telling a closed-door meeting of her party caucus on Monday that she would “never recognise” the election result and would demand a re-vote.

Five years ago Ms. Tymoshenko and her “orange revolution” ally-turned-foe, Mr. Yushchenko, stole victory from Mr. Yanukovych by pushing for a re-vote of the run-off won by Mr. Yanukovych. However, this time Ukraine’s “iron lady” does not stand any chance of overturning the vote, experts said as all international observers appraised the election as free and fair. Also, in contrast to the 2004 presidential election, when the U.S. and some other NATO members engineered the “orange revolution” to stop the “pro-Russian” candidate, Mr. Yanukovych, this time the West refused to interfere in the face of a deep-running disappointment in Ukraine with the “orange” presidency.

European Union foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton hailed the Ukrainian elections as an “important achievements in Ukraine’s democratic development” in an apparent effort to prevent a potentially destructive power struggle if Ms. Tymoshenko disputes the legitimacy of the vote.

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