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MOSCOW May 27 Russian President Vladimir Putin
called on Tuesday for an immediate halt to Ukraine's military
operation against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the
In his first reported comments on Ukraine since its
presidential election on Sunday, Putin also stepped up pressure
on Kiev to start a dialogue with the rebel leaders as fighting
raged in east Ukraine.
The Kremlin said Putin had spoken to Italian Prime Minister
Matteo Renzi by telephone and "underscored the need for an
immediate halt to the punitive military operation in the
southeastern regions and the establishment of peaceful dialogue
between Kiev and representatives of the regions."
Moscow has amassed troops on the frontier with Ukraine
during the crisis, in which Ukraine's Moscow-basked president
was ousted and Russia annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine,
but said last week they had started to withdraw.
NATO has noted, however, that many still remain.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said separately that halting
bloodshed was "the No. 1 task for the Kiev authorities and a
test of their durability" after billionaire businessman Petro
Poroshenko's election success.
"The election has taken place, and we respect the results of
the expression of the people's will, but we believe it is
absolutely imperative to ... stop all violence," Itar-Tass news
agency quoted him as telling a news conference.
Lavrov said Poroshenko would find Russia a reliable partner
if he established dialogue with eastern Ukraine, but said that
no visit by Poroshenko to Russia was being considered.
He also warned the government that efforts to put down the
separatists could backfire.
"If they are counting on ... suppressing resistance in the
southeast before Poroshenko's expected inauguration and enabling
him to go there as a victor, I don't think this will create good
conditions for a warm welcome in the Donetsk region (in eastern
Ukraine)," Itar-Tass quoted Lavrov as saying.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage)