Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday pledged 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 yesterday, 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 tomorrow 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 West has threatened Russia with painful sanctions against entire sectors of its troubled economy should it be deemed to have disrupted an election that is almost certain to bring a new pro-Western leader to power.
Putin also said that sanctions imposed on Russian officials over the Ukraine crisis would backfire on Western countries.
"In the modern, interconnected world, economic sanctions as an instrument of political pressure can have a boomerang effect, and in the end they have an impact on the businesses and economies of the countries that initiated them," Putin told an economic forum in Saint Petersburg.
He also lashed out at the global influence of the United States.
"The model of a unipolar world has failed. Everyone can easily see it today, even those who try to act in the usual manner, to keep their monopoly, to dictate their rules of the game in politics, commerce and finance, to impose their cultural and behavioural norms," he said.
"The world is multipolar, people want to decide their own destinies, preserve their cultural and historical identities and civilisations," Putin said.