News / Europe

    Ukraine Separatists to Hold Secession Vote

    • A pro-Russian gunman speaks by phone in front of the city hall decorated with the flag of self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, in the center of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, May 8, 2014.
    • A pro-Russia man takes cover from the rain with a piece of wood at the barricades surrounding the Donetsk administration building after a press conference to inform the media about a referendum, May 8, 2014.
    • A pro-Russian gunman atop a car patrols through the center of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, May 8, 2014.
    • The mother of a Cossack man killed in the burning of the trade union on May 2 holds a candle while crying next to his coffin during the funeral in Odessa, Ukraine, May 8, 2014.
    • A pro-Russia rebel wearing a gas mask places a Russian flag on the balcony of the city hall in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, May 7, 2014.
    • A Ukrainian flag burns outside the city hall in Mariupol, May 7, 2014.
    • A woman looks at a Ukrainian armored personnel carrier at a checkpoint in Mariupol, May 7, 2014.
    • A Ukrainian soldier talks to a man at a checkpoint near the town of Slovyansk, May 7, 2014.
    • An armed pro-Russian man guards the local administration building behind barricades, with a helmet bearing a flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Slovyansk, May 6, 2014.
    • A worker walks past an information board displaying flight delays and cancellations at the international airport in Donetsk, May 6, 2014.
    Latest images from Ukraine
    VOA News
    Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine said they have voted unanimously in favor of holding an independence referendum on Sunday as planned.

    “We have just voted in the People's Council... The date of the referendum was endorsed 100 percent. The referendum will take place on May 11,” separatist leader Denis Pushilin said Thursday.

    The announcement came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin called for the vote's postponement, saying the move could open the way for dialogue with Kyiv authorities.

    Some political analysts say Putin's call and the separatists’ refusal to heed it might have been staged so as to portray the Russian president as having little influence over secessionists engaged in an armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

    The crisis that has led to dozens of deaths in clashes between Ukrainian troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine and rival groups in the southern port of Odessa.

    The planned plebiscite seems to mimic a Crimea scenario where a similar vote, denounced by Kyiv and the West as having been orchestrated by Moscow, led to the Ukrainian peninsula's annexation by Russia in March.
     
    According to media reports, three million paper ballots have been printed for Sunday's poll, which separatists plan to hold in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

    Meanwhile, Ukraine's top security official, Andriy Parubiy, said on Thursday that Kyiv would press on with a campaign to regain control of the country's east.

    Kyiv condems vote, dismisses Putin's call
     
    Kyiv has rejected the referendum planned for Sunday as illegitimate, with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk dismissing Putin's call for its postponement as "hot air."
     
    Yatseniuk said Putin's conciliatory remarks made him suspect Moscow was planning some form of "skirmish" to discredit Ukraine when the country celebrates the anniversary of the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany on Friday.

    "This declaration by Vladimir Putin put me on guard," Yatseniuk told Ukraine's Channel 5 television. "It gave me a feeling of foreboding. They say one thing and do another," he said, adding that Putin's suggestion was proof Moscow was behind the uprising across Ukraine's east.

    Russia has denied playing any role in the upheaval, with Putin saying it was Kyiv's "irresponsible politics" that has caused the crisis.
    FILE - Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is seen speaking to lawmakers in Kyiv, Ukraine.FILE - Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is seen speaking to lawmakers in Kyiv, Ukraine.
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    FILE - Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is seen speaking to lawmakers in Kyiv, Ukraine.
    FILE - Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is seen speaking to lawmakers in Kyiv, Ukraine.


    In an unexpected reversal, Putin on Wednesday also described Ukraine’s presidential elections, scheduled for May 25, as “a move in the right direction.” But the assessment has been dampened on Thursday by Russia’s Foreign Ministry which said the vote would be “senseless” without an end to Ukrainian military operations and nationwide dialogue.

    Commentig on tensions in Ukraine, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said that Russia was heading down a "dangerous and irresponsible path" and that the situation in Ukraine was "extremely combustible."

    New peace proposals

    International mediators took new peace proposals to Kyiv on Thursday as tension in eastern Ukraine escalated over separatists saying they will go ahead Sunday with a planned secession referendum.

    The draft “road map” reportedly took no direct view on the referendum, which Western leaders say is illegitimate and inflammatory, but said presidential elections planned by the pro-Western authorities in Kyiv for May 25 were key to stabilizing the country.

    The document reportedly calls on all sides to refrain from “violence, intimidation or provocative actions.”

    It was drawn up by the Swiss chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and is aimed at giving new impetus to a deal signed in Geneva in mid-April by the European Union, Russia, Ukraine and the U.S.

    The peace plan says Ukraine has the right to use its security forces “in a proportionate manner” to prevent violence in its standoff with pro-Moscow rebels and should adopt an amnesty law to cover any who end their occupation of eastern areas.

    Russian troop presence

    NATO and the United States have both said they have seen no sign of a Russian withdrawal from the country border with Ukraine, despite Putin's announcement Wednesday that Moscow had pulled back troops.

    When NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasumussen tweeted as much, the Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted back that “those with a blind eye” should read Putin's statement.
              
    Russia's Defense Ministry said NATO and the United States were misleading the world about the confrontation between Moscow and Kyiv. It said the Ukrainian government had assembled 15,000 troops on its border with Russia.

    According to NATO and Pentagon estimates, Russia has been maintaining around 40,000 soldies on its side of the border with Ukraine. The troop presence has drawn widespread criticism from Kyiv and Western governments, which view the deployment as part of efforts to intimidate and destabilize Ukraine.

    More drills for US forces

    Reiterating on Thursday, that there has been “no change in the Russian force posture along the Ukrainian border,” the Pentagon released details about ongoing and planned military exercises in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.
    FILE - A Latvian army officer (R) shakes hands with his U.S. counterpart as a contingent of U.S. Army paratroopers arrive at the airport in Riga April 24, 2014.FILE - A Latvian army officer (R) shakes hands with his U.S. counterpart as a contingent of U.S. Army paratroopers arrive at the airport in Riga April 24, 2014.
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    FILE - A Latvian army officer (R) shakes hands with his U.S. counterpart as a contingent of U.S. Army paratroopers arrive at the airport in Riga April 24, 2014.
    FILE - A Latvian army officer (R) shakes hands with his U.S. counterpart as a contingent of U.S. Army paratroopers arrive at the airport in Riga April 24, 2014.


    A Pentagon spokesperson said U.S. special operations forces are taking part in pre-planned training exercises in Estonia. The drills are said include weapons familiarization, tactical movement and mission planning.

    Special operations drills in Estonia are the first of three such exercises planned in the Baltics this month, the spokesperson said but provided no details.

    U.S. special operations forces will also conduct additional previously unscheduled training in Baltics and Eastern Europe over next two months, the spokesperson added.

    The Pentagon says the special operations exercises aim to demonstrate to allies that the U.S. "is committed to security and stability" in the region.

    Retaliatory sanctions

    Russia has retaliated against U.S. and Canadian sanctions imposed late last month, but will not name those affected, says a spokesman for the country’s Foreign Ministry.

    Asked by journalists whether Russia has responded to the latest punitive measures, spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the list of those barred from entering Russia has been expanded but added that “in contrast to the Americans and Canadians, we did not make a show out of it.”

    He added that sanctions are not a method by which Russia usually operates, but said that “unfriendly actions force us to fight back.”

    “The names of those added to the Russian “no entry” list will not be published, but those on the list will find out who is affected when they apply for a visa,” said Lukashevich.

    The U.S., the European Union, Canada and Japan have imposed sanctions on Moscow, mostly against officials close to President Putin, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

    Ukrainians want unified country, poll finds

    A survey of nearly 1,700 Ukrainians says they want their country to remain united, a Pew Research Center poll released on Thursday found.

    Seventy-seven percent of those polled last month said they wanted the nation's borders to remain intact while 14 percent said parts of the country should be allowed to secede.

    While 93 percent of those in the west said the country should remain united, 70 percent of those in the eastern regions agreed.

    As for Russia, 67 percent of those polled in Ukraine said it was having a bad influence on their country, compared to 22 percent who backed its role.

    The results come ahead of May 25 presidential elections, which Western governments hope can help restore calm in Ukraine and serve as a boost to authorities in Kyiv.

    Separatist leader Denis Pushilin said his movement represents the bullhorn of the people and that the east will not accept the government in Kyiv.

    Another rebel leader, Myroslav Rudenko, said the decision to go ahead with a secession referendum on May 11 was an expression of the people's will and shows democracy in action. He said he believes the plebiscite will result in a vote to break from Ukraine.

    Gas wars

    Meanwhile, Russia ordered energy-dependent Ukraine to pay in advance for all future natural gas deliveries, as the cash-poor Kyiv government struggles to maintain economic and political stability.

    The Russian Energy Ministry said Ukraine missed a Wednesday deadline to pay down a $3.5 billion energy debt and that all gas sent from June 1 will require cash in advance.

    It remained unclear late Thursday what impact the prepayment edict will have on the European Union. Russia supplies about 30 percent of Western Europe's gas needs, with about half of those supplies passing through Ukraine.

    Travel warning

    The Department of State has issued a warning to U.S. citizens to defer all travel – both essential and non-essential – to several regions of Ukraine.

    The affected areas include the Crimean Peninsula, the eastern regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk, and the city of Odessa.
     
    Jamie Dettmer contibuted to this story from Donetsk. Some reporting by Reuters.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: melwin from: India
    May 10, 2014 2:39 PM
    How can dummy army be moved it is kept to fool NATO and US for their 4000 army propaganda.

    by: Mark from: Virginia
    May 08, 2014 12:50 PM
    Putin is playing everyone like a fiddle.. all for his own amusement and agenda. All this maneuvering is from Moscow, pulling the strings of these militants in eastern Ukraine. He had his hand in the annexation of the Crimea and got it burned, so he is now showing everyone that his hand is not in the eastern half of Ukraine. He won't get burned, but he will get what he wants; more territory for Russia.

    by: Anonymous from: Nigeria.
    May 08, 2014 12:04 PM
    This is another trend in the world that people could wake up and hold referendum without the approval of the U.N. But what can we call this Ukrainian militants. Are they the Islamists; Christiannists; Ahteistists? I want to hear from you.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    May 08, 2014 1:05 PM
    IF ONLY there hadn't been KOSOVO, where the US, EU, and NATO forced Yugoslavia, (for humanitarian reasons), to give up their sovereign land to create the independent state of KOSOVO, without UN Security Council approval? -- They bypassed the UN Security Council, and used the NATO charter to attack Yugoslavia... NOW, Russia uses the exact same rules NATO used, (for humanitarian reasons), to form the independent states of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Crimea, - (and now?) - just maybe eastern Ukraine? -- (NATO made the rules to bypass the UN Security Council), didn't they?

    by: Wiktor Protsenko from: Kyiv
    May 08, 2014 11:10 AM
    In its unannounced war against Ukraine, Russia relies on covert operations which fall squarely within the definition of "international terrorism" under 18 U.S.C. § 2331. Specifically, armed operatives of Russia, acting under disguise, attempt to influence the policy of Ukrainian government by intimidation or coercion. They also try to affect the conduct of a government by assassinations and kidnapping, taking by force government buildings, police posts and military bases of Ukraine.

    This activity is being conducted on large scale and over prolonged time period, despite condemnation by the USA, G-7, NATO, EU and UN.
    Please sign the petition urging the White House to officially designate Russia as "State sponsor of terrorism” - http://wh.gov/lwuL9 Such status of country would outlaw business of American companies with Russia. Even considering of the petition by Senate and President of USA creating great inconvenience Russian authorities.

    by: gen from: Japan
    May 08, 2014 10:48 AM
    You all pro russian separatists are samurai. No support of Russia. I wish luck on your battle.

    by: Jaycey from: Zaporozhzhte, Ukraine
    May 08, 2014 9:38 AM
    'A unanimous vote'? No such thing!

    (Except in Russia & N Korea)

    by: Anonymous
    May 08, 2014 9:03 AM
    Good to see some Pro-Russian separatists taking off their balaclavas. They do look like Russian military, but even if they aren't... Where are the womens voices? Why are men with balaclavas trying to dice up Ukraine? They have no business there, and they should all take their masks off. Hiding your face shows you are cowards, up to no good, or committing a criminal act because you can't be publicized or face the people.

    by: Anonymous
    May 08, 2014 9:00 AM
    They don't like being united with other countrymen? They don't want to live in a multicultural place? They don't want to be united as "Ukraine"? Building walls or separating doesn't do anything for the Ukraine. If you don't like the country you are in, leave, go to Russia then.

    Any Ukrainians I know love their country and feel this is 100% unacceptable and likely rigged.

    Those that can not live in a multicultural society should not be in one and should therefore move to a non-multicultural society, not make a multicultural place non-multicultural, it doesn't work that way...

    by: Arthur from: France
    May 08, 2014 8:45 AM
    EU must stop purchasing Russia's gas! We give fascist Russian government 5 billions $ every year. Soon or later Russia will invade EU!!! Don't contribute to aggressor!
    In Response

    by: Marco Denicola from: ITALY
    May 09, 2014 8:13 AM
    Agree 100% . Europe should immediatly find another solution and stop to buy gas from Russia. After what Putin and Russia is doing , Europe should stop giving dirty money to Russian fascist government!

    No more business with dirty Russian money and Russian terrorist and killers. Shame on Europenas who still want make business with Russia!




    In Response

    by: Doug from: Canada
    May 08, 2014 9:44 PM
    Arthur

    Your being a bit over dramatic about Russia one day invading
    the EU.The Russians would never risk world war 3 and
    a nuclear confrontation with the US

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