Continue reading the main story Share This Page

DONETSK, Ukraine — Ukraine’s interim president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, on Monday dismissed weekend referendums in the country’s restive east, calling them “a farce” with no legal basis, as the European Union prepared to announce a relatively modest tightening of sanctions against Moscow and its allies.

The Kremlin said in a statement that Russia “respects the will of the population” in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two provinces in eastern Ukraine that participated on Sunday in chaotic ballots offering them a question about self-rule. But the statement appeared to leave open the possibility of dialogue and mediation to resolve the crisis, stopping short of outright recognition of the contentious and disputed vote which has seemed to further cement divisions between Ukrainians and their Russian-speaking compatriots.

The ballots left the destiny of the east — Ukraine’s industrial heartland — unclear, with armed forces loyal to the interim government in Kiev and pro-Russian militants locked in a tense standoff that sometimes overflowed into gunfire. It also remained uncertain whether the two provinces would follow Crimea in seeking to be annexed by Russia.

Photo
An armed pro-Russian fighter near Slovyansk, Ukraine, on Monday. Credit Vasily Maximov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In Donetsk, the chairman of the central election committee of the separatist government, Roman Lyagin, said the preliminary results showed that “about 90 percent” of voters supported regional autonomy, but he added that a final count would take about a week because of difficulties in collecting ballots. The preliminary count, he told journalists, showed 89.07 percent in favor of self-rule and 10.19 percent opposed, while just under one percent of the ballots were filled out incorrectly or damaged.

In Luhansk, a deputy director of the election committee told the Russian news agency Interfax that 95.98 percent of voters wanted self-rule for the region and that turnout was 81 percent.

It was unclear how the turnout figures were calculated. In polling stations in the town of Slovyansk in the Donetsk region, officials worked off voting lists. At several sites in the city of Donetsk and in towns to the west, however, they did not use voting lists, instead allowing anybody with identity papers to cast a ballot, so it was unclear how many registered voters they had expected and how they could compare that with the actual turnout.

Opponents of autonomy and separatism appeared to be staying away from the polls.

In Kiev, Mr. Turchynov issued a statement on Monday calling the ballots a “propaganda farce,” news reports said, “with no legal consequences except the criminal responsibility” of those who had organized the ballots.

But he repeated that he was ready to “continue dialogue with those in the east of Ukraine, who have no blood on their hands and who are ready to defend their goals in a legitimate way,” Agence France-Presse reported.

“We have publicly called for political dialogue,” Sergiy Pashinskiy, Ukraine’s presidential chief of staff, said in an interview on the Russian television station, Rain. He added that the first event would be on held Wednesday, in Kiev, the capital, and would include university rectors, mayors and leading public intellectuals.

Continue reading the main story

Ukraine Crisis in Maps

Mr. Pashinksiy said that the dialogue would not focus only on embattled eastern Ukraine. “I stress that this is not for Donetsk and Lugansk,” he said, referring to two of the major cities under siege in recent weeks. “This is for the entire country.”

Continue reading the main story
Advertisement

Western countries have backed the Kiev authorities in rejecting the outcome of the ballots, which could offer Moscow a pretext to fulfill its pledge to protect Ukraine’s Russian speakers.

In Brussels, where the 28-nation European Union has previously announced asset freezes intended to show their disapproval of Russia’s role in the Ukrainian crisis, foreign ministers planned to announce a modest tightening of the sanctions, slightly widening the scope of asset freezes to include some companies as well as individuals.

But analysts said there would most likely be no move toward more serious sanctions against whole sectors of the Russian economy.

According to Interfax, the statement from the Kremlin said: “Moscow respects the will of the population of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and hopes that the practical implementation of the outcome of the referendums will proceed along civilized lines, without repeat outbreaks of violence and through dialogue between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk.”

“In the interests of establishing such a dialogue all mediation efforts will be welcome, including by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,” the statement from the Kremlin added.

Speaking in Brussels, William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said of the votes in eastern Ukraine: “These attempts at referendums have zero credibility in the eyes of the world. They are illegal by anybody’s standards.”

He declined to be drawn on the specific measures that he and other European Union foreign ministers planned to take on Monday.