Ukraine prevented Russian citizens from taking part in their country's presidential elections on Sunday, in response to Russia's opening of voting booths across the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed exactly four years ago.
Police blocked entrances to Russia’s embassy in Kiev and consulates in other Ukrainian cities, while nearby ultranationalist paramilitaries and protesters denounced the Kremlin’s multifaceted but undeclared war against their country.
The Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said Moscow had rejected Kiev's demand not to hold voting in Crimea, which it seized just weeks after a pro-western revolution in Ukraine. That spring Russia also fomented a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine that has since killed more than 10,300 people and displaced about 1.6 million.
“In these circumstances . . . the interior ministry decided that it was impossible to conduct elections that violate Ukrainian laws at diplomatic missions on Ukraine’s territory,” Mr Avakov announced. He said that security arrangements on Sunday at Russian missions in Kiev, Lviv, Odessa and Kharkiv “will not provide access to these sites for Russian citizens for voting . . . Only people with diplomatic status will have access.”
In different Ukrainian cities, effigies of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, were set on fire, hanged and placed in a coffin; in Odessa, demonstrators turned a portable toilet into a mock voting booth.
“Null and void”
Ukraine's envoy to the United Nations wrote to the organisation's senior officials, meanwhile, to complain about voting being held in Crimea and argue that "the outcome of such illegal elections will be null and void"
The French foreign ministry said on Sunday that it “does not recognise the organisation of Russia’s presidential election in Crimea”, and Paris again denounced the region’s annexation and called for the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Millions of ethnic Russians live in Ukraine, but it is not clear how many are citizens of Russia. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Moscow's foreign ministry, said Ukraine had tried to intimidate Russians into not voting but, having failed, it then took "unprecedented measures" and blocked access to diplomatic missions.
She appeared to suggest that Russians in Ukraine would have backed Mr Putin. “Russian citizens who wanted to vote in Ukraine see with their own eyes what is happening. That’s why their choice would have been clear,” Ms Zakharova said. “The result of such an expression of free will could not have suited the Kiev authorities. That’s why the regime, absolutely shamelessly and illegally, prevented Russian citizens from voting.”