MOSCOW — Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko charged Tuesday that Russia has frustrated efforts to investigate a plot to kill him by dioxin poisoning during a presidential campaign in which Moscow backed his opponent.
In published remarks, Yushchenko did not explicitly accuse Russian authorities of involvement in the 2004 assassination attempt. But he implied that the dioxin came from Russia and said the Russian prosecutor general's office was protecting key Ukrainian suspects by ignoring requests for their extradition.
Yushchenko, a pro-Western leader seeking to steer Ukraine away from Moscow's influence, came close to death from the poisoning.
The president, interviewed by the British newspaper The Times and the French daily Le Figaro, said Russia has not cooperated in an effort to determine the source of the dioxin.
"Three laboratories in the world were producing dioxin of this formula," he said. "It is very easy to determine the origin of the substance; there is nothing magical about it. Two laboratories provided samples, but not the Russian side. This of course limits the possibilities of the investigation process."
London's Times reported that when asked whether Russia was responsible for his poisoning, Yushchenko replied: "If I respond to that question, then the investigation will have nothing to do. We need to question the people who had direct involvement in the case."
Yushchenko said investigators have answers to many questions. "The role of all of the individuals that might be involved in this case is already determined," he said. "The investigation knows who, when, where, which substance was used. There are three key people who are now in Russia. Ukraine has filed a request with the Russian prosecutor general's office about returning these people to Ukraine for the investigation."
Yushchenko said that although he had discussed the case directly with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, "unfortunately there is no response to this issue whatsoever from the Russian side."
Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, the Russian ambassador to Ukraine, told reporters in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, that he was "really surprised" to hear that Yushchenko had accused Russia of hindering the investigation.
"Why should we investigate it?" Chernomyrdin said, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. "You sort it out yourselves. You're always looking for someone hindering you."
Chernomyrdin apparently did not address the issue of extraditing suspects.
Yushchenko fell ill after having dinner with Ukraine's then-Security Service chief, Ihor Smeshko, and his deputy, Volodymyr Satsyuk, on Sept. 5, 2004. The dinner was at Satsyuk's country home.
Smeshko and Satsyuk have denied involvement in the poisoning. However, Satsyuk and an assistant reportedly left Ukraine after Yushchenko's victory in the presidential race, and might be among the targets of Ukraine's extradition request.
Yushchenko reported having a headache about three hours after the dinner, and by the next day had developed an acute stomachache. He later suffered pancreatitis. He then developed a facial rash. Blood tests confirmed severe dioxin poisoning.
It is not yet clear if Yushchenko will face long-term health problems from of the poisoning.
Yushchenko went on to defeat Viktor Yanukovich in a rerun of presidential balloting after initial results showing Yanukovich the winner were declared invalid because of fraud.
Yanukovich later made a comeback and is now prime minister. Conflicts between the two men led to a decision to schedule an early parliamentary election for Sept. 30.
Vadim Karasyov, director of the Kiev-based Institute for Global Strategies, said Yushchenko's comments might be intended as a warning to Moscow not to back Yanukovich in the upcoming election.
"Kiev is not yet accusing the Kremlin of direct involvement in that crime, but it is clearly sending a message that such a possibility exists," Karasyov said. "It means that Moscow needs to think twice before openly supporting [Yanukovich] if it doesn't want to have another kind of polonium scandal on its hands."
Sergei Markov, a prominent Russian political analyst with ties to the Kremlin, also linked Yushchenko's comments to the pending election, but said the intent was to distract attention from investigators' failure to solve the dioxin case.
"It is no secret that Yushchenko is extremely Russophobic," Markov said. "Right now Russia is being accused of hiding suspects who allegedly poisoned Alexander Litvinenko [the Kremlin critic who died in London last year from radioactive polonium-210 poisoning]. So why not pump up this scandal even further by throwing around another ungrounded poisoning accusation to make Russia look like a refuge for poisoners of all kinds?"
Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko contributed to this report.