Ukraine on Tuesday condemned as “destructive and provocative” Russia’s stance towards elections organized by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine next Sunday, saying Moscow’s recognition of the vote could wreck chances of bringing peace.
The Nov. 2 vote would be being held in defiance of Ukrainian national elections last Sunday in which pro-Western parties, dedicated to holding the former Soviet republic together and negotiating a settlement to the conflict, triumphed.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an interview with Russian media, said the pending vote being organized by the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” “would be important from the point of view of legitimizing power”.
“We expect the elections to be held as arranged and of course we will recognize their results,” Lavrov told Izvestia paper and LifeNews TV.
In Kiev, a Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman said: “Today’s absolutely destructive and provocative statements by Russian representatives, including the foreign minister, will be interpreted by the terrorists as encouragement by Russia to hold the illegal elections of Nov. 2.
“The Kremlin is consciously making the situation worse … In such an extraordinarily fragile situation, this is an irresponsible step by Russia which can threaten the peace process,” the spokesman, Yevhen Perebynis, said in a statement.
The dispute over the rebel vote has deepened the discord in the geo-political tussle between Russia and the West over the future of Ukraine, going back to the overthrow by protesters of the country’s Moscow-backed president in February.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, whose own political group was a big winner in Sunday’s parliamentary election, also weighed in against the “pseudo-elections” planned by the rebels.
They “grossly contradicted the spirit and letter” of international agreements reached in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, in September, he was quoted as saying on his website.
Western governments, at odds with Russia over the future of Ukraine whose pro-Western leadership wants to move the country westwards, have also condemned the Nov. 2 separatist ballot.
On Monday U.S. President Barack Obama expressed support for Kiev, saying Washington would not recognize any election held in separatist-held areas that did not conform with Ukrainian law.
The separatists, who are entrenched in strongholds in Donetsk and Luhansk, see the vote as a way to underscore their independence from Kiev.
Moscow supports the rebels, but it denies Ukrainian and Western accusations that its troops have taken part in fighting against government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 3,700 people.
~ Richard Balmforth, Reuters