Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko has denounced elections held Sunday in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, calling them "a farce at gunpoint" conducted by "bandits, terrorists and interventionists."
Poroshenko, speaking Monday on national television, called the pro-Russian rebel polls "a gross violation" of a two-month-old cease-fire deal. He also said he will hold emergency talks Tuesday with his security chiefs to plan new ways of dealing with the ongoing uprising near the Russian border.
Sunday's balloting aimed to fill pro-Russian legislative bodies in the Russian-speaking eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. However, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union have all rejected the vote and say they will not recognize the outcome.
Alexander Zakharchenko speaks to media during a press conference in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, Nov. 2, 2014.
Separatist election officials reported Monday that the acting prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, was elected head of that territory, winning about 79 percent of the vote, while the acting prime minister of the Luhansk People's Republic, Igor Plotnitsky, won that territory's leadership race, receiving about 64 percent of the vote.
West condemns vote
The United Nations, the European Union and the United States have called the rebel vote illegal, saying it violates Ukraine's constitution and the cease-fire agreement reached September 5 between separatists and Ukraine's government.
The EU's new foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Sunday that the bloc would not recognize the vote, which she called "a new obstacle on the path towards peace in Ukraine."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier released a statement Monday saying that Sunday's elections were 'in breach of the letter and spirit" of the cease-fire agreement signed by representatives of Ukraine's government and the separatists on September 5. The statement added that "Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity must not be violated."
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Grigory Karasin on Monday called on the Ukrainian government to renounce military operations in southeastern Ukraine, saying that Sunday's election had given the separatist leaders "full authority to establish a sustainable and wide-ranging dialogue with the Kyiv authorities."
Russia will respect results
Russia's Foreign Ministry released a statement late Sunday saying it respected the separatist vote as an expression of the will of the inhabitants of southeastern Ukraine.
The ministry also said that in light of the election, "it is extremely important to take active steps to establish a sustainable dialogue" between Ukraine's central government and the separatists in line with cease-fire agreement signed two months ago.
EU leaders have urged Russia to ignore those results.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said Monday that Berlin found it incomprehensible that "official Russian voices" should recognize an election held by pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine.
"It is all the more incomprehensible that there are official Russian voices that are respecting or even recognising these so-called elections,'' spokesman Steffen Seibert told a regular government news conference.
The current developments in east Ukraine rule out any premature lifting of EU economic sanctions against Russia, he added. If the situation worsened, further sanctions may be necessary, Seibert said.
Earlier Sunday, the Ukrainian military said there was "intensive" movement of troops and weapons from Russia into separatist-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine where the voting was taking place.
News agencies reported seeing columns of unmarked military trucks, some with anti-aircraft guns, heading toward the government-held airport in rebel-held Donetsk, but it was not clear whether they were new or existing forces in the rebel-held region.
NATO's military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told a Pentagon briefing on Monday that 250-300 Russian troops remain inside Ukraine and that they are training and equipping separatist forces. The cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, he said, "is a cease-fire in name only."
The election in eastern Ukraine comes a week after parliamentary elections were held throughout the remainder of Ukraine, with candidates favoring closer ties with other European countries winning a significant plurality of the seats. People living in the east did not vote in the October 26 balloting.
Western officials say the vote could further complicate efforts to end the crisis in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow rebels want to join Russia. Even with the two-month-old cease-fire, there have been daily outbreaks of fighting in some parts of eastern Ukraine.
Economic relationship with east
After casting his vote Sunday, Zakharchenko said if Kyiv would recognize the pro-Russian separatist region, an economic relationship could be normalized.
"If they recognize us [Donetsk People's Republic] and return our lost land without a fight, then we will restore normal economic ties [with Ukraine] and will live like equal economic partners," he said.
The United Nations says more than 4,000 people have died in the fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia rebels.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.