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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the Conference on the Prevention of Violent Extremism at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Kiev government is outraged by remarks made by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the crucial role Russia can play in ending conflicts, and no longer believes he has any moral authority, Ukraine's U.N. envoy said on Thursday.

Ban's prepared speech for the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum said Russia "has a critical role to play ... in addressing other pressing global issues, from ending the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, to safeguarding human rights and controlling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

The delivered version was slightly different. It did not mention Ukraine but said Moscow "has a very important role to play and I really count heavily on the leadership of the Russian Federation."

Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko told reporters he was incensed by Ban's remarks which came across as praise of Moscow, which the Kiev government and Western powers accuse of supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

"I'm completely outraged by such a statement," he said. "I don't understand how the head of the United Nations can say such things."

Yelchenko said Ban's remarks appeared "to praise the role of the Russian Federation in settling the conflict in Ukraine, when the Russian Federation is the main player (being aggressive towards) Ukraine."

He added that Ban "cannot be a provider of good offices" in the Ukraine conflict after his performance at the St. Petersburg summit, a high-profile event staged by the Kremlin to attract foreign investment.

"I don't think that he has any moral right any more to say anything about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine," Yelchenko said, noting he would deliver an official protest letter later on Thursday.

Asked about the criticism, Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric declined to comment in detail.

"The fact is ... the Russian Federation is a permanent member of the Security Council and has a critical role to play," Dujarric said. "We're not going to walk back what we said."

Russia has veto powers on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council. It denies being behind the two-year old Ukrainian conflict which erupted in the country's east after Moscow annexed Crimea.

Earlier on Thursday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker defended his decision to attend the same summit.

Western officials say there has been slow progress in carrying out a peace deal between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists.

On Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that a ceasefire agreement in Ukraine was "barely holding" and blamed Russia for continuing violations.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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