Russia will respect the result of Ukraine’s upcoming presidential elections, President Vladimir Putin said Friday, while also launching a fierce criticism of US policy in the former Soviet state as well as Western sanctions against Moscow.
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 Ukraine.
He called for better relations with Kiev but said it must halt military operations against the separatists in the eastern part of the country, pay off its gas debt to Russia and release Russian journalists held in detention.
Russia ‘not planning self-isolation’
Ukraine will vote for a new president on Sunday in elections seen as pivotal for the country’s fragile democracy.
Twenty-one candidates are competing to become Ukraine’s next leader. Polls show billionaire confectionery tycoon 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.
Both the EU and US have threatened further sanctions against Russia if it interferes with the vote.
Washington and Brussels have already imposed sanctions against Moscow, including asset freezes and travel bans on members of Putin’s entourage, after its annexation of the former Ukrainian region of Crimea in March.
Kiev and its Western allies also accuse Moscow of being behind an uprising in eastern Ukraine by armed separatists who have declared independence and called for Russian military support.
The crisis has triggered the biggest East-West standoff since the Cold War, but Putin voiced hopes of mending ties with the United States and the 28-nation European Union “We are not planning any self-isolation,” Putin told the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.
“We hope that common sense ... will prompt our European and US partners to work with Russia,” he said.
Putin: US ‘plunged Ukraine into chaos’
However, he also roundly criticised US policy in Ukraine, accusing Washington of causing what he called the “chaos and a full-scale civil war” in the country by supporting the ousting of Moscow-backed former president Viktor Yanukovich.
Putin said Washington had “crapped” in Ukraine by encouraging the removal of Yanukovich.
“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 US 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 said.
Meanwhile, fighting between pro-Russia separatists and government forces continued in eastern Ukraine Friday.
One rebel leader said 16 people had died in the day’s clashes. Ten government soldiers, four rebels and two civilians had been killed, he told AP, but this could not be independently verified.
Authorities in Kiev are hoping the election of a new president will help unify the divided nation, where the west looks toward Europe and the east has strong traditional ties to Russia.
But they have 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.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-05-23