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Ukraine must work with Russia: President candidate

Embattled Ukraine should be open to working with Russia as well as Europe and the U.S., according to Mykhailo Dobkin, who is running for president of Ukraine in national elections that will start on Sunday.

Dobkin is a member of Ukraine's Party of Regions, which supports greater independence for Ukraine's different regions and is seen as pro-Russia rather than pro-West.

Ahead of the weekend's election, Dobkin told CNBC: "As far as Russia is concerned, if we manage to normalize economic relations with this country, it would be a so-called guarantee of the future that nothing will happen like is happening now on our joint borders."

Ukraine has remained on the brink of crisis since pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in February. In early March, Russia annexed Crimea in the south of the country and fighting between pro-Russian militias and Ukrainian forces has continued in the country's industrial heartland in the east.

Russia's aggression has led both the U.S. and the European Union to impose an escalating series of sanctions. These include visa bans and asset freezes on companies and officials in both Ukraine and Russia with links to President Vladimir Putin.


"We should follow the policy of open doors and work on relations where we have strong interests," Dobkin said.

"In the spheres where our interests coincide with the interests of the European Union, we should work with the EU. Where we have close ties with the trading union of Russia, we should follow those interests."

The politician is seen lagging his rivals in the election, however. The frontrunner is oligarch Petro Poroshenko, known as the "chocolate king" due to his business interests in the confectionery industry.

GfK

According to a poll held by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology earlier this month, over one-third of Ukrainians will vote for Poroshenko, with former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in second place, with just 5.9 percent of the vote.

However, Max Bader, assistant professor of Russian and Eurasian studies at Leiden University, warned it was unlikely residents in all regions of Ukraine would be allowed to vote in Monday's elections.

In a blog post on the London School of Economics' website, Bader said residents of Crimea—which Putin claims is now part of Russia—may be forbidden from voting. Those in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts regions could also be unable to participate given the occupation of state buildings by pro-Russian separatists.

"Ukraine now faces a dilemma long known to other ex-Soviet republics such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova, who equally do not control part of their territory: how to organize an election when part of the electorate is physically barred from voting?" Bader wrote.

Another crucial question ahead of Sunday's elections is whether Russia will recognize the outcome.

"On May 7, Putin surprised many, however, by calling the presidential elections a 'step in the right direction'," Bader, who will serve as an international observer at the upcoming election, wrote.

"Considering the many unpredictable actions of the Russian authorities in recent months, however, few would be certain that this means that Moscow will recognise the outcome of the elections."