Putin orders government to work with foreign partners on Ukraine

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to continue talks with Ukraine on economic and trade relations and to consult foreign partners including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Group of Eight nations (G8) on financial aid, a statement on the Kremlin's website said.

It said Mr Putin also ordered the government to consider a request from Ukraine's largely ethnic Russian southern region of Crimea, a bastion of opposition to the new pro-Western leadership in Kiev, for humanitarian aid.

They were the first orders Mr Putin has made in relation to Ukraine since Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich's ouster over the weekend after a bloody three-month standoff with opposition protesters.

The orders were in stark contrast with aggressive Russian statements which have called on Ukraine's new leaders to disarm "extremists" and vowed that Moscow will strongly defend its compatriots in Ukraine.

The call for cooperation with foreign partners, including the G8 largest economies and the IMF, signals that Mr Putin does not want to be left out of efforts to help deeply indebted Ukraine, a country he calls a "brother nation".

Mr Yanukovich triggered protests in Ukraine in November by backing out of plans to sign landmark deals with the European Union and instead saying Ukraine would seek closer economic and trade ties with its former Soviet master Russia.

In December, Mr Putin promised Mr Yanukovich a US$15 billion (S$19 billion) bailout, but Russia has put the deal on hold after releasing an initial instalment, saying it wants more clarity about the new government and its policies.