* Medvedev in first comments since Sunday first-round vote
* Moscow keeping distance after diplomatic disaster of 2004
* Russia foreign minister says don’t play politics with ties
(Recasts with Medvedev comments)
By Conor Humphries
MOSCOW, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday said he hoped Ukraine’s presidential election would boost ties with Moscow, which were badly damaged when a Kremlin-backed candidate lost the same race five years ago.
Sunday’s first-round vote in Ukraine set up a Feb. 7 run-off between opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Both are seen as friendlier to Russia than the current, pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko.
“I hope that when the final results are compiled in Ukraine, a workable, effective leadership will appear disposed to the development of constructive, friendly and comprehensive relations with the Russian Federation,” Medvedev told Russia’s new ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov.
Moscow has refrained from backing either candidate after Putin’s support of Yanukovich’s failed 2004 presidential bid was widely seen as an embarrassing diplomatic failure.
Putin publicly backed Yanukovich and his pro-Russian policies in the 2004 campaign and quickly congratulated him when initial results indicated he had won.
But Yanukovich’s apparent victory was overturned amid a wave of protests over allegations of voter fraud fuelled in part by anti-Russian feeling, dubbed the Orange Revolution. Yushchenko won a court-ordered rerun of the vote.
While the 2004 election was a battle between the pro-Russian Yanukovich and the pro-Western policies of eventual winner Viktor Yushchenko, relations with Russia have been a relatively minor issue in the current campaign.
Yanukovich and Tymoshenko have called for improved ties with both Moscow and the European Union.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier on Tuesday called on the eventual winner not to play political games with Moscow.
“I am sure that the new Ukrainian president... will fully understand the need to develop relations this way and not make them hostage to their own, or someone else’s, political ambitions,” he told journalists.
At Tuesday’s meeting Medvedev also finalised Zurabov’s appointment as Ukrainian ambassador and named him a special presidential envoy for trade and economic ties. For more stories on the Ukrainian election, click [ID:nGEE5B9114] (Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Dominic Evans)