Separatist leaders voted back in disputed east Ukraine election


The interim leaders of the self-proclaimed “People’s Republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region were confirmed in office as expected in a poll on Sunday that has been condemned by Kyiv and the West.

The two leaders, Denis Pushilin (top photo) in Donetsk and Leonid Pasechnik in Luhansk, won the votes with 61 and 68 percent respectively, local election officials said on Monday..

Both men have called for closer ties with Russia, and analysts say the poll will cement Moscow’s hold on the disputed regions, which have broken away from the central Ukrainian government in Kyiv amid a civil conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014.

Read more: Kurt Volker: ‘We disagree over very substantial things’

Food stalls

Officials said the turnout was high, with authorities encouraging people to come out and vote by setting up food stalls near polling stations and offering lottery tickets to those who cast ballots.

Both Kyiv and Western leaders say they will not recognize the votes in the provinces, calling them illegitimate because they were conducted in areas where Ukraine has no control.

The United States on Monday dismissed the election as a “sham” used by Moscow to “institutionalize its Donbass proxies.”

On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron also slammed the polls as “unlawful” in a joint statement .Earlier, the two leaders discussed the elections with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko amid ceremonies in Paris commemorating the end of the First World War.

Poroshenko called the polls a “brutal violation” of the so-called Minsk peace agreements and described Russia as the “organizer” who must take responsibility for them.

Although the 2015 peace deal calls for local elections in the regions, these were meant to have taken place under the auspices of the central government in Kyiv.

Moscow, in its turn, has hailed the votes as steps forward in the regions’ bid for independence.

Merkel, Macron and Poroshenko (Reuters/M. Lazarenko)

Merkel, Macron and Poroshenko met at the Paris Peace Forum

‘Telephone terrorism’

Pushilin, 37, took over charge in Donetsk after his predecessor, Alexander Zakharchenko, was killed in a bomb attack in Donetsk in August. Pushilin, a former negotiator with Kyiv, was also previously involved in the Russian MMM Ponzi scam, in which an estimated 5 to 10 million people lost their savings.

Pasechnik, 48, is the former regional head of the Ukrainian security service.

A senior security official in Luhansk, Mihail Paraskev, has accused Ukraine of using “telephone terrorism” to hamper Sunday’s election, including by giving false bomb alerts for several polling stations. The accusations have not been independently confirmed.

tj/jm (Reuters, dpa, AP)

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