Kiev Famine Tribute Irks Medvedev

President Dmitry Medvedev accused Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Friday of distorting history for political gain by commemorating a famine engineered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

"We clearly see that this theme, along with persistent attempts to secure an invitation to NATO's 'prep classes,' has in recent years all but become the main element of Ukrainian foreign policy," Medvedev told Yushchenko in a letter.

"Such steps can hardly be explained by a bid to restore historical justice or to honor the victims' memory. They are more likely aimed at dividing our peoples as much as possible," he said.

The dispute over this week's anniversary of the 1932-33 famine is part of a long series of disputes between the neighbors over Kiev's shift toward the West, which includes seeking membership of NATO and the European Union.

Historians say 7.5 million people died in the famine, intended to break the spirit of Ukraine's independent farmers.

Medvedev said the famine was "the consequence of drought and forced collectivization. ... To suggest that the main aim was to destroy Ukrainians is to fly in the face of the facts and paint a general tragedy in nationalist tones."

Ukrainian authorities, led by Yushchenko, have sought to have the famine internationally declared a genocide.

Several days of commemorations this week include a conference to be attended by regional leaders, the unveiling of a monument and a solemn procession to honor victims.