A masked pro-Russian gunman wearing a ribbon of Saint George guards at a check-point near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on May 23, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ VIKTOR DRACHEV
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Russia will recognize the outcome of Ukraine's presidential vote, President Vladimir Putin promised Friday, voicing hope that Ukraine's new leader would halt the military operation against separatists in the east.But clashes between pro-Russia separatists and government forces appeared to be heating up, leaving 20 more rebels and one solider dead, Ukraine's Defense Ministry reported Friday. The Russian leader also spoke of mending ties with the United States and the 28-nation European Union, which have slapped asset freezes and travel bans on members of his entourage and had threatened to introduce more crippling sanctions if Russia tried to derail Sunday's vote in Ukraine.Alexei Makarkin, deputy head of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies think-tank, said Putin's comments reflected a desire to avoid another round of Western sanctions. He added, however, that Russia's relations with Ukraine will be unlikely to normalize any time soon.Twenty-one candidates are competing Sunday to become Ukraine's next leader. 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.
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