Russia stresses it respects - not recognises - Ukraine rebel vote
Russia on Friday conspicuously stopped short of saying it recognised controversial rebel elections in eastern Ukraine, confirming it "respected" their outcome.
"In principle, we respect the expression of the will of those who voted," Putin's top foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov told reporters.
He said Russia's position had been expressed in a foreign ministry statement earlier this week which said Russia "respected" the vote.
"Russia's official position is indeed expressed in this short but pithy statement of the foreign ministry on the results of the election.
""It uses the word 'respect'"," Ushakov stressed.
"The word 'respect' has been chosen on purpose.
"Pro-Russian separatists defied the Ukrainian government Sunday and held leadership elections in the rebel-held east of the country that they described as legitimising their two self-declared independent states.
Kiev, the European Union and United States all said that the polls had badly damaged the peace process, which was based on giving rebel areas autonomy, not independence.
Washington and Brussels accuse Russia of stirring the war in Ukraine by backing separatists and sending in regular troops.
Moscow has denied the claim, saying it merely protects Russian speakers in the neighbouring country.
Next week Putin is set to travel to summits in China and Australia where he is expected to meet a number of Western leaders including US President Barack Obama.
Ukraine on Friday said dozens of tanks and truckloads of soldiers had crossed from Russia into Kremlin-backed rebel territory, in what might be an escalation of the Ukraine conflict.
© 2014 AFP