ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Russia will recognize the outcome of Ukraine's presidential vote this weekend, President Vladimir Putin promised Friday, but he also voiced hope that Ukraine's new leader would halt the military operation against separatists in the east.
In Kiev, Ukraine's caretaker president urged all voters to take part in Sunday's crucial ballot to "cement the foundation of our nation." Yet pro-Russia insurgents were still battling government forces Friday in eastern Ukraine, where a vote boycott and threats against election workers were disrupting the prospects of the ballot taking place.
AP journalists in the east saw three dead from Friday's fighting a day after insurgents killed 16 Ukrainian soldiers at a checkpoint. One rebel leader said 16 more people died in fighting Friday — 10 soldiers, four rebels and two civilians — but there was no immediate way to verify his statement.
Speaking at an investment forum in St. Petersburg, Putin said Russia will "respect the choice of the Ukrainian people" and will work with the new leadership. He said Russia wants peace and order to be restored in its neighbor.
The Russian leader also voiced hopes of mending ties with the United States and the 28-nation European Union, which have slapped asset freezes and travel bans on members of Putin's entourage and had threatened to introduce more crippling sanctions if Russia tried to derail Sunday's vote in Ukraine.