Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is trying to use her Russian counterpart's "strongman" tactics in the presidential race in Ukraine, her main rival Viktor Yanukovych said on Tuesday.
"Yulia Tymoshenko has begun imitating Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and thinks she will benefit from that," Yanukovych said in televised remarks in the mainly Russian-speaking eastern region of Dnepropetrovsk ahead of the former Soviet state's January 17 presidential election.
Yanukovych said that unlike Russia, Ukraine has no strong "state machinery," and accused President Viktor Yushchenko and the prime minister of "putting on a free-of-charge performance for the country and the rest of the world in the past five years."
His remarks came in response to Tymoshenko's statement on the need to toughen domestic policies to pull the country out of political and economic recession, and her criticism of him on Monday for his refusal to take part in televised debates.
"I cannot but take your refusal to hold open honest discussions as other than common cowardice," Tymoshenko said. "If you don't think you have the brains and political experience to take part in televised debates, you should admit that you are not ready to lead the country, rule it or represent it in the world."
Opinion polls point to Yanukovych, President Yushchenko's opponent in the 2004 race, as the leading contender with ratings 10% higher than those of his closest rival Tymoshenko, the incumbent's ally-turned-rival.
The premier, however, was reported to be in talks with other candidates to win their voters' support in the runoff, which is highly likely as none of the contenders is expected to secure more than 50% of the vote.
Both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko pledged to protest against the results if they lose the vote, echoing the 2004 mass street protests known as the "orange revolution" that brought Yushchenko to power amid election fraud accusations against Yanukovych.
Observers, however, said a repeat of rallies is unlikely as Ukrainians have grown tired of political infighting aggravated by the economic crisis.
Yushchenko is also running for reelection, but the president is polling in the single figures.
KIEV, January 12 (RIA Novosti)