11 May 2014

Pro-Russian rebels hold vote in part of east Ukraine

May 11, 2014

Some seven million people live in the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk holding the two simultaneous referendums calling for independence.

KIEV: Sunday's independence vote organized by pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine will take place in more than a dozen towns which they occupy. 

Although Kiev and the west have already dismissed it as "bogus" and invalid, there are fears Russia could recognize a result for secession, splitting Ukraine further and worsening the crisis over the ex-Soviet nation. 

Some seven million people live in the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk holding the two simultaneous referendums calling for independence (out of 46 million that made up all of Ukraine before Crimea's annexation by Russia in March). 

Around 70 per cent of them want to stay in a unified Ukraine, even though many are hostile to Kiev's western-backed government, according to a Pew Research Centre survey. 

The rebels will be holding the vote in schools in the 14 or so cities and towns they hold, which account for less than half of the two province's combined population. 

Because Kiev's authorities have not provided electoral rolls, the rebels will accept ballots from anybody who turns up. 

With no international monitors overseeing the disputed vote, the results will be questionable. 

If the insurgents declare they have support for the creation of the sovereign republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, nobody will recognise them — except probably Russia, which could conceivably send in military forces at their request. 

The west has said the referendums are invalid and will ignore the result. But it is powerless to stop a de facto division of Ukraine, having ruled out any military intervention. Ukraine, unlike several of its ex-Soviet neighbours, is not a member of Nato. 

De facto secession would undermine, if not kill, a May 25 presidential election Ukraine is to hold. 

The west has said that if that election fails to take place, it will impose wide-ranging sanctions on whole sectors of Russia's economy. 

The people currently in charge of the self-styled republics of Donetsk and Lugansk could be propelled to self-styled presidencies. 

In Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, 33, has been the most public face of the rebellion. A follower of a paramilitary group, he is an economics student drop-out who turned to shady politics in the east. 

In Lugansk, it is not clear who might take the reins, but the province's "people's governor" is a 43-year-old former parachutist named Valery Bolotov. The former economist and engineer took part in the wars in Armenia and the Azerbaijan separatist region of Nagorny Karabakh.

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