A US envoy for Ukraine on Saturday accused Russia of seeking to remove Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko from power in the March polls, in the hope of working out a favourable deal with a different government.
"What they are trying to do is attack Poroshenko and weaken Poroshenko," Special Representative Kurt Volker told AFP on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich when asked whether Moscow supports a specific candidate in the presidential election on March 31.
"They very much want to see him removed from power and I think they are hoping that they will be able to cut some kind of deal that favours Russia with a new government because they are not getting that from Poroshenko," he said.
Poroshenko, who was elected following the ousting of Russia-backed Viktor Yanukovych in the wake of bloody protests in Kiev, is running an uphill battle for re-election.
Other top contenders include former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, who once played the role of president in a Ukrainian TV series.
After the 2014 uprising, Moscow annexed Crimea and supported Russian-speaking separatists in the industrial east, in a conflict that according to the United Nations had killed some 13,000 people as of the end of last year.
Poroshenko's low popularity ratings received a boost after he oversaw the creation of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent of Moscow.
His standing also increased after Russia seized three of Kiev's navy vessels and two dozen sailors as they tried to pass from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov in November.
'What they are trying to do is attack Poroshenko and weaken Poroshenko,' Special Representative Kurt Volker told AFP.