Donetsk’s citizens voted in favour of sovereignty Sunday, pro-Russian insurgents announced when unveiling results of a twin referendum that is certain to deepen the turmoil in Ukraine.
The separatist pro-Russian region of Donetsk urged Moscow to consider its absorption into Russia, a move that is predicted to echo the annexation of the Crimean peninsula which had a similar referendum earlier in the year.
The call is said to anger the official Kiev and Western nations that are blaming Russia for stirring up unrest in the east following the overthrow of a pro-Moscow president in February by protesters demanding closer links with Europe.
“The people of Donetsk have always been part of the Russian world. For us, the history of Russia is our history,” said Denis Pushilin, a leading member of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic”.
“Based on the will of the people and on the restoration of a historic justice, we ask the Russian Federation to consider the absorption of the Donetsk People’s Republic into the Russian Federation,” he told a news conference.
The Kremlin, however, denies any ambitions to get the mainly Russian-speaking east into Russia. Nevertheless, Russian authorities odered to mass troops on the Ukrainian border, and Kiev fears they may be sent in.
Ukrainian current President Oleksander Turchinov accused the country’s neighbour of creating plans aimed at overthrowing legitimate state power in Ukraine.
He insists that Moscow is trying to disrupt a presidential election which are scheduled later this month, taking center stage in a confrontation pitting Moscow and the separatists against the government in Kiev and its Western backers.
“RIA news agency quoted a rebel leader as saying the eastern Luhansk region would boycott the May 25 election. What he called the “Republic of Luhansk” may hold a further referendum on union with Russia, as Ukraine’s Crimea region did under Russian military occupation before its annexation by Moscow in March,” Reuters reports.
Meanwhile, one spokesman for pro-Russian regions announced that they don’t even consider taking part in electing a replacement for Turchinov, who has been acting president since pro-EU protesters forced Yanukovich from office.
“As of today, we are now the Republic of Luhansk, which believes it to be inappropriate and perhaps even stupid to hold a presidential election,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.
Some regions have publicly supported pressing for annexation by Russia.
“This land was never Ukraine … We speak Russian,” said Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, rebel mayor of the separatist stronghold of Slaviansk, who threatened to kick out the Ukrainian army.
Asked about the possibility of holding a second referendum, on union with Russia, he said: “There has been no decision, but this referendum showed we are prepared … We can put on an election or referendum at short notice at barely any cost.”
Turchinov dismissed the separatist vote as a farce.
“These processes are inspired by the leadership of the Russian Federation and are destructive to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions’ economies, threaten the lives and welfare of citizens and have the aim of destabilizing the situation in Ukraine, disrupting presidential elections and overthrowing Ukrainian authorities,” he said in a statement.