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Putin: Russia will respect result of Ukraine vote



By LAURA MILLS and PETER LEONARD

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) -- Russia will recognize the outcome of Ukraine's presidential vote this weekend, President Vladimir Putin promised Friday, but he also voiced hope that Ukraine's new leader would halt the military operation against separatists in the east.

In Kiev, Ukraine's caretaker president urged all voters to take part in Sunday's crucial ballot to "cement the foundation of our nation." Yet pro-Russia insurgents were still battling government forces Friday in eastern Ukraine, where a vote boycott and threats against election workers were disrupting the prospects of the ballot taking place.

AP journalists in the east saw three dead from Friday's fighting a day after insurgents killed 16 Ukrainian soldiers at a checkpoint. A rebel leader said 16 more people died Friday - 10 soldiers, four rebels and two civilians -but there was no immediate way to verify his statement.

Speaking at an investment forum in St. Petersburg, Putin said Russia will "respect the choice of the Ukrainian people" and will work with the new leadership. He said Russia wants peace and order to be restored in its neighbor.

Twenty-one candidates are competing Sunday to become Ukraine's next leader. Polls show billionaire candy-maker Petro Poroshenko with a commanding lead but falling short of the absolute majority needed to win in the first round. His nearest challenger is Yulia Tymoshenko, the divisive former prime minister, who is trailing by a significant margin. If no one wins in the first round, a runoff will be held June 15 - and most polls predict Poroshenko's victory in that contest.

The Russian leader also voiced hope Friday of mending ties with the United States and the 28-nation European Union, which have slapped asset freezes and travel bans on members of Putin's entourage and threatened to introduce more crippling sanctions if Russia tried to derail Sunday's vote.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March, grabbing a large section of Ukraine's Black Sea coastline and triggering the worst crisis in relations with the West since the Cold War.

Putin said the sanctions on his inner circle were unfair. He insisted Russia had nothing to do with what he described as the "chaos and a full-scale civil war" in Ukraine, saying that was triggered by the West's support of a "coup" which chased Ukraine's pro-Russian president from power in February.

"They supported the coup and plunged the country into chaos, and now they try to blame us for that and have us clean up their mess," he said.

Putin also alleged that by pressing the EU to impose stronger sanctions against Russia, the U.S. was trying to weaken a competitor.

"Maybe the Americans, who are quite shrewd, want to win a competitive edge over Europe by insisting on introducing sanctions against Russia?" he asked.

On a more positive note, he hoped that "common sense will push our partners in the United States and Europe toward continuing cooperation with Russia."

In a live televised address from Kiev, Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, who is not running in Sunday's election, emphasized the importance of the vote to choose a new leader.

"Today, we are building a new European country, the foundation of which was laid by millions of Ukrainians who proved that they are capable of defending their own choice and their country," Turchynov said. "We will never allow anyone to rob us of our freedom and independence, turn our Ukraine into a part of the post-Soviet empire."

Authorities in Kiev had hoped that a new president would unify the divided nation, where the west looks toward Europe and the east has strong traditional ties to Russia. But they have now acknowledged it will be impossible to hold the vote in some areas in the east - especially in Donetsk and Luhansk, where insurgents have declared independence and pledged to derail the vote. Election workers and activists say gunmen there have threatened them and seized their voting roles and stamps.

Joao Soares of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Friday he expects problems with voting in "less than 20 percent of the polling stations."

At a security conference in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov urged the West to reach a settlement based on mutual interests.

"If we sincerely want to help the Ukrainian people overcome this crisis, it's necessary to abandon the notorious zero-sum games, stop encouraging xenophobic and neo-Nazi sentiments and get rid of dangerous megalomania," Lavrov said.

Fighting, meanwhile, still cast a shadow over the presidential vote.

Associated Press journalists saw the bodies of two Ukrainian soldiers Friday in the village of Karlivka, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the eastern city of Donetsk.

One body was seen lying on the side of the road, the other behind a burnt-down cafe near a bridge controlled by pro-Russia insurgents. The cafe was still smoldering Friday afternoon. Residents said pro-Kiev paramilitary forces attempted to advance on rebel positions but there was no way to independently confirm that account.

A spokesman for the pro-Russia rebels, who identified himself only by his first name, Dmitry, for security reasons, said 10 soldiers, four of his men and two civilians were killed in fighting Friday. He spoke in Karlivka, which is controlled by insurgents.

At another site outside Donetsk, AP journalists saw another body lying near a checkpoint manned by insurgents.

Fighting also continued around the city of Slovyansk, where Ukrainian government forces retaliated against rebel fire, damaging several houses. There was no word on casualties.

--

Leonard reported from Karlivka, Ukraine. Nebi Qena in Karlivka, Alexander Zemlianichenko in Slovyansk, Nataliya Vasilyeva in Kiev and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow also contributed to this report.

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btauble May 23 2014 at 10:37 AM

Putin is right the CIA should quit stirring up trouble in other goverments. we do not tolerate other countries meddling in our country.

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42 replies
pty014372 May 23 2014 at 10:31 AM

I am sure am glad that Obama and Kerry have put Putin in his place. Great work, guys!

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46 replies
Mathew May 23 2014 at 10:40 AM

The cold war is over. Putin is NOT a communist. We do not need to "stand up to him". The Ukraine is in Russia's backyard. The USA has no business to be tampering in the Ukraine. Let's make Putin our friend and not our enemy.

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50 replies
jerryeyes1999 May 23 2014 at 10:35 AM

Come on Obama,give Putin another one of your RED LINES

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15 replies
wetjets May 23 2014 at 10:44 AM

The US between 1994 and 1996 convinced Ukraine, which was the third largest nuclear power, to turn over 5000 nuclear weapons over to Russia, with promises of protecting its sovereignty and getting it into the European Union. Now Russia is trying to take over Ukraine with threats and by moving Russians into the country. Ukrainians are fighting back, so will the USA back up its promise? Or will our word mean nothing as Putin and his KGB attempt a takeover, now that Ukraine has no nuclear weapons. This is why USA owes a defense to Ukraine.
I wonder if Putin will allow Ukrainians in Moscow to vote to cede a portion of Moscow to Ukraine if certain areas vote for ceding from Russia, like he had Russians in Crimea do after offering to raise their pensions.

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12 replies
surghucjls May 23 2014 at 10:39 AM

And so now Putin is telling us what to do ? We need some good leadership in this Country again and soon.

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13 replies
emam545 May 23 2014 at 10:47 AM

How can Putin lump us with in the group that is really distroying us, our government officials. How can they run this country when they screw with other countries? These corrupt officials need to go, they spend so much time on how to not do their. Start with impeachment from the president and bring charges to all the top officials, they waste enough money, so what's the difference of wasting it were we can better ourselves demolishing this big government!

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6 replies
cecejoe94 May 23 2014 at 10:32 AM

putin needs to bend over so the American people can drive him home .......an WE the American people need some leadership!!!

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18 replies
kcarthey May 23 2014 at 10:34 AM

Once again, we applaud the ability of the American President to stand for the European Allies while keeping American women and men from combat. While I personally disagree with his overlooking the historic relation Ukraine has had as an integral part of Russia, I must salute him for his astuteness in this matter and for showing the world how paper a bear the Russian President is.

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19 replies
eagle6922 May 23 2014 at 11:44 AM

It is astonishing at some of the comments. Some in here are not old enough to know what went on during the civil war between the Ukraine/Russia......There was a 1994 accord, that in fact made the Ukraine a sovorein nation. This accord was signed by Yeltsin, Clinton Thatcher Shroedar and most European/Asian counties. Now comes an ex-KGB insurgent(Putin) flexing muscles to deny the Ukrainian people their independence. What President Obama and the European countries have done is the best way to handle the crisis. But, there are many warmongers on this post that would like to start another war. Just what we need. It's bad enough we have had two illegal wars started by Bush/Cheney. The lost of our servicemen/women is a travesty. So many on this post have never experienced combat. I can tell you from experience being a Nam vet. It is not worth it. It is not pretty. Stop! Use your common sense. For Putin to insinuate the EU/US are the aggressors is totally ludirous

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2 replies
almazstmp eagle6922 May 23 2014 at 11:58 AM

Ukraine had its independence for 23 years with pro-Western and pro-Russian leaders. They just can't get it together and blame the Russians instead of looking at themselves. It's their tradition to blame everyone except themselves.

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CE Ling Ni eagle6922 May 23 2014 at 12:34 PM

They're ignorant, are you surprised? Most of them don't even do research before spewing whatever their tiny brain can come up with.

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