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Russia says it's ready for direct dialogue with new Ukrainian president

MOSCOW - Moscow is ready for a direct dialogue with Ukraine's new president and doesn't need any Western mediation, Russia's foreign minister said Monday.

Sergey Lavrov said Russia has a positive view on Ukraine's presidential vote and is ready to deal with billionaire candy tycoon Petro Poroshenko, who holds a commanding lead, according to early returns.

Lavrov said that Russia noted Poroshenko's statements about the importance of normalizing ties with Moscow and the need to establish a dialogue with eastern regions, where pro-Russia insurgents have seized government buildings and fought government troops.

He said that "we are ready for dialogue with Kyiv representatives, with Petro Poroshenko." He added that "we don't need any mediators," in a reference to a possible role of the United States and the European Union in such talks.

With votes from 60 per cent of precincts counted early Monday, Poroshenko was leading the Ukrainian elections with about 54 per cent in the field of 21 candidates. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was running a distant second with 13 per cent.

The 48-year-old billionaire, who claimed victory after exit polls showed him with a commanding lead in Sunday's vote, has said he supports strong ties with Europe but also wants to mend ties with Russia.

Speaking after the polls closed, Poroshenko promised a dialogue with residents of eastern Ukraine and to guarantee their rights, including the right to speak Russian. He said he was ready to extend amnesty to those who haven't taken up weapons and that meetings with Russia should be held as soon as possible.

"And I think that Russia is our neighbour. And without Russia it would be much less effective or almost impossible to speak about the security in the whole region or maybe about the global security," Poroshenko said.

The election, which came three months after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was chased from office by crowds following months of street protests and allegations of corruption, was seen as a critical step toward resolving Ukraine's protracted crisis.

Since his ouster, Russia has annexed the Crimea Peninsula in southern Ukraine, the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk have declared their independence from Kyiv, and the interim Ukrainian government has launched an offensive in the east to quash an uprising that has left dozens dead.

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