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Putin Orders Continued Economic Ties With Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin directed his government to maintain trade and economic relations with Ukraine after the ouster of its pro-Russian president, the Kremlin said Friday.

Putin also said Russia would consult with the International Monetary Fund and the G8 on organizing financial assistance for Ukraine, the Kremlin said.

The directive comes at a delicate moment as Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin ally who was forced out of power last weekend, prepared to break a week of silence and speak later Friday at a news conference.

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Yanukovych fled Kiev on Saturday after losing a three-month standoff with protesters who opposed his rejection of deals with the European Union in favor of closer ties to Moscow.

The Kremlin said Putin had also instructed his government to consider any requests for humanitarian aid from the semi-autonomous Ukrainian region of Crimea, home to Russia's Black Sea naval fleet. Armed men seized the government headquarters and parliament of the regional capital, Simferopol, on Thursday.

About 50 armed men carrying Russian flags also tried to seize the airport Thursday night in Simferopol, searching for "Ukrainian troops." The Russian news agency Interfax quoted sources as saying the men were dressed and armed similarly to those who seized the parliament building.

Many analysts believe Russia is privately encouraging the separatist demonstrators to protect Moscow's role in shaping Ukraine's future.