WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Kremlin should show it accepts the outcome of Sunday's election in Ukraine by working with the new government and whoever is elected Ukraine's next president, the United States said on Friday.
In a speech in St Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wants better ties with the West and indicated he would accept the outcome of Ukraine's presidential poll.
"We will treat the choice of the Ukrainian people with respect," Putin told foreign and Russian businessmen when asked whether Russia will recognise the legitimacy of Sunday's election.
Both the White House and State Department were unconvinced by Putin's words.
"We'll have to see whether in fact Russia does recognise and then take steps to engage with the Ukrainian government and the victor of the presidential election," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.
He added: "We further urge Russia to use its influence to persuade separatists in eastern Ukraine and elsewhere to vacate buildings they've occupied, to lay down their weapons, to cease the activities they've engaged in that have caused violence and instability ... and instead to participate in the democratic process in that country."
At the State Department, spokeswoman Marie Harf said there was evidence that pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine were trying to disrupt the vote.
"We've seen, particularly in a couple of places in the east, these separatists trying purposefully to disrupt the elections with violence, taking over of government buildings, taking ballot boxes, taking voter registration lists," she said.
She also dismissed comments by a Russian deputy defence minister on Friday that Russia intended to pull back all forces deployed to regions near the Ukraine border "within a few days."
"And regardless ... the force that remains on the border is very large and very capable and remains in a very coercive position and posture," Harf said.
Kiev and its Western allies see the Russian troops as a potential invasion force. The United States and NATO have said Russia has amassed some 40,000 troops near the frontier.
Washington has warned Russia it will impose broader economic and industrial sanctions against it, with support from European states, if Moscow interferes in Sunday's election.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)