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Ukraine's Yanukovich, Russia's Putin hold Sochi tete-a-tete

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[February 08, 2014]  BOCHAROV RUCHEI, Russia (Reuters) Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who is facing mass protests and economic turmoil at home, held a one-on-one meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin in Sochi on the day of the opening of the Winter Olympics, a Kremlin aide said on Saturday.

Friday's talks between the two presidents in the Russian Black Sea resort on the sidelines of the Olympic celebrations had been expected.

Moscow has frozen aid to Ukraine until it knows who will be named in place of the pro-Russian prime minister removed last week in a bid to appease opposition leaders and thousands of protesters rallying in central Kiev against Yanukovich's rule.

"There was a contact (between Putin and Yanukovich) in the course of the (Olympic) events. It was a one-on-one (meeting) during the opening events," Putin's foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters.

Ushakov declined to say what had been discussed or whether any agreements had been reached.

Ukraine, which is struggling to prop up its currency amid the political turmoil and a debt crisis that has left it on the verge of bankruptcy, sorely needs Russia's financial aid.

While the details of the latest meeting are unclear, a similar tete-a-tete between the two leaders late last year is thought to have led to Yanukovich's last-minute decision to spurn a trade deal with the European Union in favor of deeper economic ties with Russia.

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The Sochi meeting is likely to have placed the ball firmly in Yanukovich's court. It follows talks on Wednesday in Kiev between the Ukrainian leader and the EU's foreign policy chief.

Catherine Ashton told him the EU was ready to help Ukraine in many ways, both financially and with expertise, to improve its long-term economic development.

(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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