SAINT PETERSBURG - Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged Friday to respect the outcome of Ukraine's presidential election but warned that the country had descended into all-out civil war after a bloody upsurge in separatist violence.
At least seven people were killed in fighting between rebels and defence forces outside the eastern industrial hub of Donetsk on Friday, a day after the deaths of 18 soldiers in the heaviest loss for the Ukraine military since the conflict began.
Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov called on voters to turn out in force Sunday to prevent Ukraine "being turned into a part of a post-Soviet empire" by a weeks-long insurgency that Kiev and the West say is being orchestrated by Russia.
And Putin said he would "respect the choice of Ukrainian people".
"We are today working with those people who control the government and after the election we will of course work with the newly elected authorities," he said.
But he also accused the United States of choreographing a "coup" in February against a Kremlin-backed leader who upset the West by ditching a closer alliance with Europe and seeking Moscow's economic help instead.
"The Ukrainian crisis arose because (ousted president Viktor) Yanukovych postponed the Association Agreement with the European Union," Putin told an economic forum in his native city of Saint Petersburg.
"This was followed by a coup backed by our American friends and as a result there is chaos and full-scale civil war." Friday's fighting pitted a volunteer force attached to the Ukrainian army against militants armed with heavy machine guns and backed by at least one armoured vehicle.