West urges Russia to scrap separatist elections in Ukraine
US unveils new sanctions over Moscow's role in Crimea and the Donbas region
Acting head of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Leonid Pasechnik during his pre-election address this week ahead of the upcoming vote for a new leader in Luhansk, Ukraine. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
Western governments have urged Russia to cancel Sunday’s planned elections in parts of eastern Ukraine under its de-facto control, warning that they will further undermine already ineffective efforts to bring peace to the region.
Areas of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces that are run by Moscow-led separatists intend to choose local leaders and deputies, in what Ukraine’s government and its EU and US allies call sham elections approved by Russia.
The vote comes some 10 weeks after the assassination of Alexander Zakharchenko, erstwhile chief of the Donetsk-based separatists, and during the fifth year of a grinding war between Ukraine’s army and Russian and militia troops, which has killed more than 10,300 people and displaced 1.6 million.
“Russia could and should cancel the sham November 11th ‘elections’. It’s a charade since the Kremlin has already anointed leaders to serve as its proxies,” in the so-called people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk (DNR and LNR), said the US embassy in Kiev.
“While Ukraine takes positive steps to promote peace, Russia is stoking conflict by staging sham ‘elections’. Residents of eastern Ukraine should boycott these ‘elections’, which are not in line with either the Minsk agreements or Ukrainian law.”
In early 2015, Kiev and Moscow signed a deal in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, which laid out steps to eventual peace in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Few of the measures have been implemented, however, and shelling and skirmishes continue almost every night in the region, killing and injuring fighters and civilians and cutting off Ukraine from its main industrial and mining areas.
The EU has also denounced the planned vote, and in a recent joint statement Germany, France, Britain, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium said the ballot would violate the Minsk agreements and Ukrainian law.
“We urge the separatists to abandon the plans for ‘elections’ and call on Russia to bring its considerable influence to bear to stop [them] from taking place,” they said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov defended plans for the ballots, however, and said that who would lead DNR and LNR was “extremely important” for Russia.
“Moscow undoubtedly has influence on the leadership of these republics, but it is not unlimited,” he added.
“For Kiev to talk about contradictions of the Minsk agreements is not entirely correct . . . because the lamentable situation around implementing the Minsk package is caused by Kiev’s unwillingness to fulfil [it].”
The US treasury department on Thursday unveiled new sanctions on individuals, firms and organisations that it says have taken part in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and establishment of control over a swathe of eastern Ukraine.
Kiev officials, meanwhile, urged people not to vote in the elections and warned that anyone who helped arrange or conduct them would face prosecution under Ukrainian law.