Regions of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia rebels have gone to the polls to elect their leaders. The results, which have been recognized by Russia but rejected by the EU, were never in doubt.
Things went as expected in the rebel-declared Donetsk People's Republic and the nearby self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic on Sunday, with both of the men who were in charge ahead of the elections winning easily.
One exit poll found that Alexander Zakharchenko, 38, who commands the rebels fighting Ukrainian security forces in Donetsk, took just over 80 percent of the vote. In Luhansk, Igor Plotnitsky, 50, didn't fare quite so well, but is still reported to have taken more than 60 percent.
As predictable as the results were, so were the reactions of both Russia and the West. The Kremlin quickly endorsed the results of the elections.
"We respect the expression of the will of the residents of southeast (Ukraine)," Russia's Foreign Ministry announced in a statement quoted by local media late on Sunday.
"Those elected have received a mandate to resolve the practical issues of re-establishing normal life in the region."
'Obstacle to peace'
The European Union has rejected the polls, with its newly appointed foreign policy coordinator saying they would only serve to complicate efforts to bring peace to the war-torn region.
"I consider today's 'presidential and parliamentary' elections in Donetsk and Luhansk 'People's Republics' a new obstacle on the path towards peace in Ukraine. The vote is illegal and illegitimate, and the European Union will not recognize it," read a statement released by the office of Federica Mogherini.
Speaking during a visit to Indonesia on Monday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Berlin fully supported Mogherini's statement.
"It is clear to me that the so-called elections that were held in eastern Ukraine do not comply with the Minsk agreement, neither in letter nor spirit, and therefore, what the high representative said on behalf of the European Union yesterday applies - that we cannot recognize these elections," Steinmeier said.
The vote was also criticized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, of which Russia is a member. It also said that the elections contravened the truce agreed in talks in Minsk in September, which, temporarily at least, led to a significant decrease in the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
An upsurge in the fighting was reported in the days leading up to Sunday's elections.
pfd/mkg (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)