Referendum results in Donetsk and Lugansk Regions show landslide support for self-rule
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Almost 90 percent of voters in Donetsk Region have endorsed political independence from Kiev, the head of the Central Election Commission of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’, Roman Lyagin, announced.
“Counting the ballots proved to be surprisingly easy – the number of people who said ‘no’ was relatively small and there appeared to be only a tiny proportion of spoiled ballots, so we managed to carry out counting quite fast. The figures are as follows: 89.07 percent voted ‘for’, 10.19 percent voted ‘against’ and 0.74 percent of ballots were rendered ineligible,” Lyagin told journalists.
In Lugansk Region 96.2 percent of voters supported the region’s self-rule, according to the final figures announced by the local election commission.
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Despite fears that amid Kiev’s intensified military crackdown – which killed at least two civilians on referendum day – the turnout will be low, in both of the region it was unexpectedly high. In Donetsk it reached 74.87%, while in Lugansk the central election commission says 75% of eligible voters came to the polling stations.
With such a huge turnout, the referendums have been recognized as valid by both election commissions.
The acting president of Ukraine, Aleksandr Turchinov, has condemned as a “farce” referendums in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
“This propaganda farce won’t have any legal consequences, except for criminal charges for its organizers,” Turchinov said, Interfax reported.
Following the referendum, officials of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic have not ruled out that in case the situation in the region deteriorates, they may have to request peacekeeping forces to be deployed.
“We will try to cope with it on our own; we don’t want this confrontation to increase, especially on our territory,” Denis Pushilin, co-chairman of the Donetsk People’s Republic, said. "If the situation deteriorates, we reserve the right to ask for a peacekeeping contingent,” he added.
Pushilin has also said that within hours the Donetsk People’s Republic may decide if it is going to stay with Ukraine or not. The republic has also decided not to take part in Ukraine’s presidential elections on May 25, according to media reports.
The referendums, according to Turchinov, were inspired by Russia to “totally destabilize the situation in Ukraine, disrupt the presidential election and overthrow the Ukrainian government.”
Calling the regional voting on self-determination illegal, Kiev sent its recently formed paramilitary forces to Donetsk and Lugansk regions on Sunday, in an apparent move to disrupt referendums.
As armored military vehicles blocked passage to polling stations, voting in four towns across Lugansk region was disrupted. In the Donetsk town of Krasnoarmeysk, the National Guard shot at a crowd and killed two civilians who were protesting their attempt to seize a polling station.
The people’s governor of the Donetsk Region, Pavel Gubarev, told
journalists on Sunday that Donetsk and Lugansk will emerge as new
legal entities as a result of the referendum.
“The referendum for us is about creating a new state paradigm,” he said.
Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the people’s mayor of Slavyansk, Donetsk Region, where some of the heaviest fighting between Ukrainian troops and self-defense activists took place, said the next step following the referendum would be developing closer ties with Russia.
"Russia is our brotherly nation, [we hope for] full interaction with Russia, including entering the Customs Union,” Ponomaryov said.
One of the organizers of the referendum in Lugansk, Vasily Nikitin, told journalists that the region will appeal to the United Nations to recognize its independence, RIA Novosti reports. Nikitin also said Lugansk was not going to take part in the Ukrainian presidential election on May 25.
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Moscow hopes the results of the referendums in eastern Ukraine will instigate dialogue between Kiev and the regions that voted in favor of self-rule, according to the Kremlin’s press-service.
“Moscow respects the will of the people in Donetsk and Lugansk and hopes that the practical realization of the outcome of the referendums will be carried out in a civilized manner, without resorting to violence, through dialogue between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk,” the statement reads.
The Kremlin says it welcomes all mediation efforts, including those by the OSCE.
Spokesman for the president, Dmitry Peskov earlier explained that Putin “did not urge, but recommended” that the votes be postponed. However, the spokesman says that “even considering the authority of the Russian president,” it was difficult for Donetsk and Lugansk authorities to follow his recommendation amid Kiev's ongoing military crackdown.
Both the EU and US have dismissed the ballots in eastern Ukraine as illegal.
“If these referenda go forward, they will violate
international law and the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The
United States will not recognize the results of these illegal
referenda,” US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said
in a statement late on Saturday.
The European Union came up with a similar comment, adding that the referendums ran counter to the Geneva agreement on de-escalation reached by Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the United States last month.
"The so-called referenda in ... parts of Lugansk and Donetsk Regions were illegal and we do not recognize the outcome. Those who organized the referenda have no democratic legitimacy," Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said in emailed comments to Reuters.
OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Swiss President Didier Burkhalter
described the referendums in eastern Ukraine as “incompatible
with the Ukrainian constitution and therefore illegal.”
“Such provocative actions must be avoided,” Burkhalter said at a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels on Monday.
Despite the rejection of the referendums by Kiev and most Western
countries, it won’t be so easy to ignore the results,
international affairs expert Serdja Trifkovich believes.
“After the referendum it will no longer be possible for the regime in Kiev to say that they do not want to negotiate with the so-called terrorists,” Trifkovich told RT. “They will be forced to acknowledge internally that they are facing the level of agreement among the people in the eastern regions that will prove it rather difficult to deal with by force.”