Ukraine crisis: Vladimir Putin says Russia 'will respect' Ukrainian vote

Russian leader blames Washington for backing 'coup' against Yanukovych

Russian president Vladimir Putin has said the crisis in Ukraine has descended into a full-scale civil war, but insisted that Moscow will "respect" the outcome of Sunday's presidential elections.

Speaking at the annual St Petersburg economic forum, Mr Putin blamed the United States for backing the ousting of former president Viktor Yanukovych, which, according to the Russian leader, has plunged Ukraine into "chaos and full-scale civil war".

His comments come just a day after Ukrainian government troops suffered the worst losses against pro-Russian insurgents in a deadly attack on Thursday morning in the east of Ukraine, where pro-Moscow militiamen have seized government buildings and clashed with Kiev forces.

At least 14 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the raid and more than 30 wounded at a checkpoint in the village of Blahodatne, 20 miles from the city of Donetsk, with tensions running high ahead of presidential elections on Sunday.

On the same day, up to 500 insurgents attacked a convoy of government troops outside the eastern village of Rubizhne.

According to Ukraine's Defense Ministry 20 insurgents were killed and one soldier was killed on Friday in a separate clash in the same area.

Speaking on Friday Mr Putin said Russia will "respect" the outcome of the vote and "the voice of the Ukrainian people", but insisted that Mr Yanukovych was forced to resign and remains president under the current constitution, adding: "It would have been better to hold a referendum and adopt a new constitution."

 

Polls show chocolate billionaire Petro Poroshenko with a commanding lead but falling short of the absolute majority needed to win in the first round on Sunday; his nearest challenger is Yulia Tymoshenko, who is trailing by a significant margin.

Western leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, have warned that a new round of economic sanctions would follow if the 25 May elections fail to go ahead as planned.

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