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Ukraine

Round table talks in Ukraine as presidential polls near

During a third round of national unity talks, without separatists from the breakaway regions Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukraine's interim prime minister has said he's not currently willing to negotiate directly with Moscow.

Interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said on Wednesday that his government could not currently engage in bilateral talks with Russia, owing to the unrest in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. He was speaking at a third round of domestic unity talks with Ukrainian politicians.

Yatsenyuk said that Russia had "destroyed the system of European security and breached international law and UN statutes" in recent months. He said that talks would be possible in the presence of EU and US officials, provided that the goals of a meeting were made clear beforehand.

The interim government in Kyiv holds Russia responsible both for the annexation of Crimea, now recognized by the Kremlin as Russian, and for the unrest in the breakaway eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Yatsenyuk was speaking at the third round of Ukraine's national unity talks, taking place in Mykolaiv (also known by the Russian-based name Nikolaev) in the south of the country on the Black Sea. The German government welcomed the third round of talks, also saying it was a "good sign" that a predominantly Russian city was chosen as the venue. Separatists from Donetsk and Luhansk have not been invited to the talks, with Yatsenyuk's government saying no participants could have "blood on their hands."

Turchynov visits troops, Russia strikes softer tone

Interim President Alexander Turchynov also said what Kyiv calls its "anti-terror" efforts against separatist forces in the south and east were progressing well. Turchynov said the "final phase" of the military operation would soon begin.

"We are ready to cleanse the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk of terrorists," he said on a visit to a military base not far from one of the separatists' main strongholds, Slovyansk.

Ukraine is scheduled to elect a new president on Sunday, May 25. The Interior Ministry in Kyiv issued a statement saying 55,000 police troops and 20,000 volunteers would be mobilized to oversee the vote, saying the election was threatened by "aggression from Russia and the actions of the separatists in the east."

Ukraine's ambassador to Germany, Pavlo Klimkin, told radio station Deutschlandfunk Kultur that he was confident of a relatively peaceful and successful election, even in the breakaway areas. Klimkin also expressed hope that the vote could help to calm the situation in Ukraine, saying the president had "always played a large role … historically and also politically" in the country.

US Vice President Joe Biden, visiting the divided island of Cyprus, appealed on Wednesday to Russia not to "undermine" the polls. The US and EU have repeatedly threatened further economic sanctions in the event of a heavy disruption of Ukraine's presidential vote.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that troops stationed near Ukraine's border would withdraw ahead of Sunday's vote, "so that speculation cannot arise about us impeding the presidential elections." Putin was speaking on a visit to Shanghai, where Russia and China announced a new long-term natural gas deal. The 30-year deal should start in 2018, according to information from state energy giant Gazprom, once the requisite pipeline is completed.

msh/hc (AFP, dpa)

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