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SHANGHAI May 21 President Vladimir Putin said
on Wednesday it will be hard for Russia to build relations with
Ukrainian leaders who come to power while fighting persists in
the country's east.
In the latest in a string of comments from Moscow casting
doubt on the legitimacy of a presidential election scheduled for
Sunday, Putin also said it would be more logical for Ukraine to
hold the vote after a referendum on a new constitution.
Russian officials have suggested the vote will not be
legitimate without an end to hostilities between government
forces and pro-Moscow separatists and implementation of a road
map to resolve the crisis in the former Soviet republic.
"It will be very hard for us to build relations with people
who come to power against the backdrop of a continuing punitive
operation in southern and southeastern Ukraine," Putin said,
referring to the anti-separatist operation by government forces.
In Bucharest, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden warned that
undermining the May 25 election would bring greater costs for
Russia - already subject to Western sanctions since its
annexation of Crimea.
Russia wants Ukraine to adopt a constitution that would give
a powerful measure of autonomy to its regions, which Moscow says
is needed to guarantee the rights of Russian-speakers in the
"In my view it would be far cleaner, from a legal point of
view ... to first hold a referendum on all the basic issues, a
constitutional referendum ... and then elect a president and
parliament on the basis of this constitution," Putin said.
"...What is important is not the election itself but
establishing relations with all regions of Ukraine, so that
people feel like citizens no matter where they live."
(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Steve Gutterman;
Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel, John Stonestreet)