- Associated Press - Friday, May 23, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) - Ohio’s Republican senator will be in Ukraine this weekend to observe presidential voting in the crisis-torn European nation.

Rob Portman said the Congress-sponsored trip with other lawmakers will be part of an effort to strengthen U.S.-Ukraine cooperation through the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. He said he also wants to encourage the Ukrainian people and back the democratic process.

“Basically, I’m there to show our support from the United States of America for self-determination for the Ukrainian people, to be sure that the voting is fair, that the ability of every individual in that country to influence their country is at the ballot box, and not by the barrel of a gun,” Portman said in a Thursday conference call.

He said he will be in the capital of Kiev, and visiting polling places.

Twenty-one candidates are competing Sunday to become Ukraine’s next leader. A runoff election would be held June 15 if no one claims a majority.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Friday that Russia will recognize the outcome of Ukraine’s presidential vote, but voiced hope Ukraine would halt its military operation against separatists in the east.

Portman plans to spend Memorial Day in Poland, where he will visit with U.S. military personnel.

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