The US has labeled weekend ballots in separatist-held Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as "illegitimate, so-called 'elections'." Washington urged Moscow, which has supported the votes, to reconsider its stance.
The US joined Germany, the EU and others on Monday in rejecting the elections held in the self-proclaimed People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, in which separatist leaders claimed comfortable victories.
"The United States condemns the illegitimate, so-called 'elections' held on Sunday by Russia-backed separatists in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk," said Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council. Meehan said that the vote contravened Ukraine's constitution, the Minsk ceasefire accord signed in September, "and the most basic electoral norms."
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki similarly said that the US "deplores and does not recognize" Sunday's elections, nor "any of the leaders chosen in this illegal vote."
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert on Monday said that the manner in which the polls were conducted was "extremely questionable," while European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini issued a statement calling the elections "a new obstacle on the path to peace in Ukraine."
Russia sees 'mandate' for Zakharchenko, Plotnitsky
The incumbent separatist leaders, Alexander Zakharchenko in Donetsk and Igor Plotnitsky in Luhansk, both won landslide majorities, according to official results. Zakharchenko claimed roughly three-quarters of the votes, Plotnitsky almost two-thirds. Luhansk officials put turnout at 60 percent, while just over 1 million people cast ballots in Donetsk. Prior to the conflict, which has prompted many to flee the region, the Donetsk Oblast was home to some 3 million eligible voters.
Officials in Moscow had welcomed the results earlier on Monday, saying that the vote paved the way for eastern Ukrainian leaders to negotiate with the new government in Kyiv, elected earlier in October. However, the statement stopped short of formal recognition.
"The elected representatives received a mandate to solve practical issues to restore normal life in the regions," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, albeit also stressing that it considered Donetsk and Luhansk to remain parts of Ukraine.
Like the EU's Mogherini earlier on Monday, the US government warned that recognizing the polls could prompt further sanctions against Moscow.
"As we have said repeatedly, Russia has a choice. If it supports the peace process and adheres to its Minsk commitments, the costs for Russia's destabilizing actions against Ukraine will lessen," Meehan said. "Should Moscow continue to ignore the commitments that it made in Minsk and continue its destabilizing and dangerous actions, the costs to Russia will rise."
On Tuesday, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko will meet with his top security chiefs in Kyiv to discuss the implications of the vote. He called the elections a "flagrant violation" of the ceasefire deal brokered in Minsk, which had promised increased autonomy for the breakaway regions. Two of the 12 points in the Minsk protocol address the issue of "early local elections" in the conflict-ridden Oblasts, but only "in accordance with the law of Ukraine."
msh/lw (AFP, AP, Reuters)