Breakaway Ukraine Republics Vote For New Leaders

KIEV, Ukraine -- Elections are being held in two breakaway republics of eastern Ukraine, in a vote viewed by Kiev as an illegal attempt by Russian-backed separatists to legitimise their four-year occupation.

Poll condemned as illegal attempt by Russia-backed separatists to legitimise occupation.

The poll in the so-called People’s Republic of Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk is taking place as Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and other world leaders including Donald Trump attend a memorial service in Paris to commemorate 100 years since the end of the first world war.

However, it is not clear whether Ukraine is on the agenda in the French capital, where the country’s president Petro Poroshenko is also among the guests.

Mr Trump, who has raised eyebrows by refusing to publicly criticise Mr Putin, is set to leave Paris later on Sunday while the Russian leader is expected to join a “peace forum” organised by President Emmanuel Macron.

The internationally unrecognised poll has been condemned by Kiev and its western backers, who say it is a violation of the 2015 Minsk accords that attempted to end the conflict.

Kurt Volker, US special representative in negotiations over the Ukraine crisis, urged Moscow to agree to a UN peacekeeping mission to help end the fighting and called for new elections under Kiev’s authority.

“There is no way that anyone from Europe, the US et cetera can give any recognition to these results,” he said.

“Russia is in the process of organising elections in the territory it occupies in Ukraine.”

The warring sides have accused each other of plotting to flare up fighting during the vote.

Mr Volker said the conflict had “resulted in more deaths . . . since the war in the Balkans in the 1990s” and “more displaced persons as a result of a war in Europe than anything since the second world war.

The fighting has claimed more than 11,000 lives, with casualty numbers growing almost daily.

Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s press secretary, this week backed the vote, saying it was an “extremely important” election.

But Vasyl Hrytsak, Ukraine’s state security chief, said the poll was an attempt by Moscow to replace the gun-toting commanders who have spearheaded the conflict over the past few years with a new crop of suit-wearing leaders.

Denis Pushilin, a former chairman of the self-declared parliament in Donetsk, is expected to be elected leader of the breakaway republic.

He has been filling the role since former chief Alexander Zakharchenko, a battle-hardened commander, died in a mysterious café explosion two months ago.

In the nearby Luhansk People’s Republic, former security and customs official Leonid Pasechnik is expected to be confirmed as leader.

Late last year he staged a coup-styled takeover of power from Igor Plotnitsky, who then fled for Russia after multiple assassination attempts.

EU foreign ministers could discuss potential additional curbs on Russia over its meddling in Ukraine and other issues when they meet later this month, although the bloc is far from united on the issue.

Italy is among those pushing for an easing of Russia sanctions.

Source: ft