Merkel Said to See Russia Respecting Hitch-Free Vote in Ukraine

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is easing her tone before Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election, saying she’s hopeful that Russia will recognize the results of a mostly trouble-free vote, according to two officials in her party bloc. She didn’t mention further sanctions, they said.

Merkel told a meeting of her Christian Democratic caucus in Berlin yesterday that she expects Russia to accept the election result and that disorder is limited to small parts of eastern Ukraine, according to the officials, who attended the meeting and asked not to be named because the discussion was private. Russia’s recognition of the election result will be decisive in determining the next steps in the management of the crisis, the officials quoted her as saying.

“We will solve our problems with Russia with talks, not through war -- and that’s the kind of progress that’s made Europe possible,” Merkel said later at a campaign rally yesterday evening in the eastern city of Goerlitz.

As Ukraine’s election approaches, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a troop withdrawal from regions near Ukraine and welcomed a dialogue between Ukrainian authorities and the regions. U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials said yesterday they had no evidence of a Russian pullback.

Merkel, President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande have warned Putin he risks additional sanctions if Ukraine’s election is disrupted.

The German leader took a sharper tone on Russia when she set out on on the campaign trial for European Parliament elections three weeks ago.

“If Russia doesn’t play by the international rules, then we have to answer with sanctions,” she said at a rally in Bremerhaven on April 29.

Raised in Soviet-dominated East Germany, Merkel speaks Russian and has sought to balance pressure for sanctions from allies such as the U.S. with concern among the German public and companies that relations with Russia may worsen.

EU governments have halted visa and trade talks with Russia and imposed asset freezes and travel bans in two rounds of sanctions since March. They’ve kept up the threat of further penalties with a broader economic impact.

Merkel has sought to engage with Putin in phone calls since the crisis began with his annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March. While citing their diverging views, she has urged keeping channels of communication with Russia open.

“For us Germans, Russia is a close partner,” Merkel was quoted as saying in an interview with the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper published yesterday. “Our goal in past years has been -- and can be again -- to bring Russia and Europe closer together.”

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