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Russia, Ukraine leaders in ‘friendly’ car race

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych celebrated Friday their nations’ increasingly warm ties by driving vintage cars in a race from Russia to Ukraine.

The race commemorated 100 years since a similar car race in Tsarist Russia, following the same route, with Tsar Nicholas II offering a prize.

Russian television footage showed Medvedev and Yanukovych meeting in the Russian border region of Bryansk from where they two rode 60 kilometres (40 miles) to the ancient town of Glukhov in Ukraine, with each leader driving a separate vintage Pobeda car.

“This car race is true symbol of our friendship,” Medvedev sain in Ukraine in remarks released by Yanykovych’s office.

The race was organised by Russian gas giant Gazprom, which in the past has repeatedly cut off gas to Ukraine following pricing disputes.

The presidential car race comes after Medvedev’s powerful mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stole the limelight last month by driving through Siberia in a canary-yellow Lada.

In a macho move earlier this summer, he rode a Harley-Davidson into a bikers’ rally in Ukraine, wearing dark glasses and waving his black-gloved hands.

Medvedev and Yanukovych were meeting for the eighth time since Yanukovych was elected in February and were later scheduled to continue talks at Zavidovo, a hunting lodge outside Moscow where Soviet leaders once entertained their closest foreign allies, the Kremlin said.

Yanukovych outraged pro-Western politicians in April by agreeing a landmark deal to keep Russia’s Black Sea Fleet based in Crimea at least until 2042 in exchange for a 30 percent discount on Russian gas exports to its neighbour.

Yanukovych, who comes from Ukraine’s Russian-speaking East, is perceived as pro-Kremlin, although he has called integration into the European Union a top priority.