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Russia's Putin "welcomes" Ukraine-EU ties amid mediation efforts

(Vatican Radio) Russian President Vladimir Putin says he would welcome closer economic ties between the European Union and Ukraine, in what appears a departure from his previous stance.

Putin's spoke while Germany prepared to host two Ukrainian opposition leaders as part of international efforts to end weeks of unrest between Ukraine's leadership and protesters. His latest remarks on Ukraine, relayed by German diplomats, appeared to contradict comments made by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

On Friday, Minister Lavrov accused the EU of seeking a “sphere of influence” on its borders

by pressing Ukraine to choose closer ties with the Western bloc, at the expense of relations with


Separately, Putin reportedly told German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that "steps towards economic convergence between the EU and Ukraine were welcome."

It was not clear what prompted the turnaround. However EU member Germany and Russia seek ways to cooperate in ending a stand-off between Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, and protesters who demand his resignation.

Demonstrators are angry because Yanukovich preferred to accept a $15 billion Russian economic bail-out instead of pressing ahead with a promised co-operation deal with the EU.

Moscow and Berlin have reportedly discussed mandating an international body, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to mediate between the conflicting sides.

Additionally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets two of Ukraine's main opposition leaders in Berlin next week, to help broker a new power-sharing government.

But opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk has virtually ruled out a coalition with Yanukovich allies. “As for the post of prime minister there is no need to try and barter government portfolios with the opposition," he said.

"We do not accept the prime minister’s chair only. We will only accept the full responsibility of the country, which means forming the cabinet of ministers.”

Chancellor Merkel will also meet Vitaly Klitschko, the boxing-champion turned opposition leader.

Germany has offered a visa and medical treatment to Klitschko's friend, opposition activist Dmytro Bulatov, who was abducted and tortured by unidentified assailants.

Bulatov, who received treatment in Lithuania and travelled to Germany Friday, said his captors had cut off an ear and driven nails through his hands, before dumping him in a forest.

Listen to Stefan Bos’ report: RealAudioMP3