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Ukraine split in two - Putin

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a ceremony of receiving credentials from foreign ambassadors at the Kremlin in Moscow. Picture: Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Moscow -

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Ukrainian society is split after being forced to choose between Europe and Russia, speaking shortly after Kiev inked the EU association accord.

“The anti-constitutional coup in Kiev, the attempts to impose an artificial choice between Europe and Russia have pushed society to a split, to a painful internal confrontation,” Putin said in Moscow.

“Ukraine must return to a path towards peace, dialogue and agreement,” he said as he received foreign ambassadors in the Kremlin.

“The main thing is to ensure a long-term ceasefire as a necessary condition for holding thorough negotiations between Kiev authorities and representatives of the south-east regions.”

“We are sincerely trying to assist in the peace process,” Putin added.

Western leaders this week pressured Putin to help Kiev authorities end the conflict in the separatist east, where the regions of Lugansk and Donetsk have declared independence and are battling against government troops.

Moscow has denied direct involvement in the conflict, although some of the militants are believed to be Russians.

Putin has urged Kiev to grant more autonomy to the Russian-speaking regions and extend Kiev's one-week ceasefire which was announced last Friday and is set to expire later in the day.

The Kremlin strongman has repeatedly stated that Ukraine cannot pursue closer EU integration and at the same time expect preferential treatment from Russia.

His spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday reiterated that Moscow will introduce necessary measures to protect itself.

Deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin warned for his part that the EU pact Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed off on in Brussels will have “serious consequences.” - Sapa-AFP

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