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Poroshenko a leader Moscow 'ready' to work with

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Russia said Monday it was ready to talk to Ukraine's new president Petro Poroshenko, raising hopes that after months of tensions Moscow sees in the billionaire a leader it can work with.

"We are ready for dialogue with Kiev's representatives, with Petro Poroshenko," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Russia's first reaction to his victory in Sunday's vote.

Lavrov was cautious, saying Moscow was ready for "pragmatic dialogue, on an equal footing" and warned that for Kiev to continue its military operations against pro-Russia rebels in the east would be a "colossal mistake".

But Poroshenko -- a billionaire with strong Russian business interests and a history of working with both pro-Western and Moscow-backed Ukrainian governments -- is the kind of figure analysts say the Kremlin can see as a partner.

"Poroshenko is an extremely attractive president for the Kremlin... This is a person who will be able to negotiate with Moscow and find compromise," said Alexander Konovalov, president of the Institute of Strategic Assessments.

"There was a camp in the Kremlin that wanted to feed the fire in Ukraine. Now I think they will move into the shadows," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has not yet reacted himself to Poroshenko's victory, but he did say he will "respect" the result of the vote and promised to work with Kiev's new authorities.

Putin and Poroshenko have met several times, from the confectionery tycoon's stints as foreign minister under former pro-Western leader Viktor Yushchenko and economy minister under Kremlin-backed ex-president Viktor Yanukovych.

- Strong Russian business ties -

It was Yanukovych's ouster in February -- after he refused to sign a partnership agreement with the European Union -- that kicked off the crisis which eventually led to Moscow's annexation of Crimea and pro-Moscow rebellions in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow, which still officially recognises Yanukovych as Ukraine's leader, has been careful not to explicitly recognise the results of Sunday's vote.

In a statement on Monday, Yanukovych said he had "respect" for the result but cast doubt on its legitimacy after voting was blocked in rebel-held parts of the east.

Still, analysts said Moscow will have little choice in dealing with Poroshenko, who early results showed winning close to 54 percent of the vote.

"The sufficiently high turnout and convincing first-round result will force the Kremlin to see Poroshenko as the leader of a consolidated Ukraine," said Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Moscow-based Political Expert Group.

"There will be no room to accuse the new government of being illegitimate," he said.

During the campaign, Poroshenko told AFP he had "extensive experience" of working with Putin, describing him as a "strong and tough negotiator".

The two men share a passion for judo, but analysts said it will be Poroshenko's strong business ties to Russia that will help most in making the Kremlin consider him a potential partner.

Poroshenko's Roshen confectionery company has invested heavily in Russia and while its factory in the southern city of Lipetsk was forced to shut down early in the Ukraine crisis, it reopened in April.

Poroshenko's first test is likely to come this week as Ukraine and Russia negotiate over Kiev's gas bill for June.

Russia has threatened to cut off Ukraine's supplies from June 3 if it does not pay the month's $1.66 billion (1.2 billion euro) bill in advance.

That has raised fears of disruptions to Europe, which counts on Russian gas delivered through Ukraine for nearly 15 percent of its supplies.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140526/poroshenko-leader-moscow-ready-work