Mon, Nov 12, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Ukraine rebels hold elections in defiance of West

‘RIDICULOUS’:A former operator of a notorious Russian Ponzi scheme was likely to win the Donetsk poll dismissed as a ‘mockery’ by the US’ special envoy to Ukraine

AFP, DONETSK, Ukraine

Polling stations yesterday opened in rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine as Kremlin-backed separatists chose their new leaders, despite Western calls on Moscow not to sabotage peace talks.

Washington and Brussels have said the polls in the Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s Republics” in Ukraine’s industrial east would further hamper efforts to end a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini on Saturday said that the bloc considered the polls “illegal and illegitimate and will not recognize them.”

“These particular elections are a mockery,” US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker said.

“It is something that we call on Russia to halt and not go forward with,” he said last week, adding that the vote contradicted Western-brokered peace agreements.

The Kremlin has rejected the appeals, saying the vote has “nothing to do” with the accords.

Moscow said the elections are necessary to fill the power vacuum after the leader of the Donetsk republic Alexander Zakharchenko was killed in a bombing at a Donetsk cafe in August.

“People simply need to live, get on with their lives and ensure order in the region under a blockade and permanent threats of the use of force by Ukrainian authorities,” Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

After Zakharchenko’s killing, Denis Pushilin, a 37-year-old former operator of the notorious Russian Ponzi scheme MMM, has become acting leader of the Donetsk republic and was expected to win polls there.

Leonid Pasechnik, the 48-year-old former regional chief of the Ukrainian security service and acting leader of the neighboring republic of Lugansk, was also expected to sail to victory.

Both have promised to seek tighter ties with Moscow.

Election posters around Donetsk urged people to vote “with Russia in your heart.”

However, some locals said they have been disheartened, adding that their opinions did not matter.

“Two global masters — the United States and Russia — are dividing territories,” said Yury, a 50-year-old Donetsk resident, declining to release his surname.

“Hope has died, as they say,” he told reporters.

Lydia Bondar, a 76-year-old pensioner, said she was a fan of Zakharchenko and would vote for his successor, Pushilin.

Many analysts have said the polls are a way for Moscow to strengthen its grip on about 3 percent of Ukrainian territory where about 3.7 million people live.

Compared with Zakharchenko, Pushilin is considered by many observers to be a more convenient figure for Moscow.

Some pro-Kiev residents said they would not vote.

“This is ridiculous,” said 34-year-old Tatyana, refusing to give her last name for fear of reprisals. “The man who was involved in Ponzi schemes has been chosen to be our president. I am not going to vote, I would rather spend the day with my child.”

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