Separatists declare victory in referendum
Pro-Russian separatists have declared victory in a self-rule referendum that the US, EU, and most of the rest of the world considers illegitimate.
Naturally, Moscow sees it differently.
The Kremlin said Monday it respects the secession referendum in eastern Ukraine and hopes for a "civilized implementation" of the results through talks between Kiev and representatives in the east.
Pro-Russian separatists declared victory in Sunday's vote, ratcheting up tensions between the West and Moscow. In its first comments since the referendum, the Kremlin appears to challenge the West and Kiev's standpoint that it was illegitimate. (Read the latest updates on the crisis in Ukraine.)
The Kremlin said in a statement that Moscow welcomes all possible efforts to start negotiations between Kiev and separatist regions with the involvement of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
"Moscow views with respect the expression of the will of the people of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and expects that the practical implementation of the outcome of the referendums will be carried out in a civilized manner without any recurrence of violence, through dialogue between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk," the statement said.
Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov said that Moscow is aiming to sabotage May 25 presidential elections and accused the Kremlin of supporting the unrest that has swept the eastern region.
EU foreign ministers were set to modestly expand sanctions on Russia on Monday. They were united in condemning the referendum, with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt calling the ballot outcomes "fake figures from a fake referendum" and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier saying they "can't be taken seriously."
People cast their ballot for the referendum called by pro-Russian rebels to split from the rest of Ukraine on Sunday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/Genya Savilov
EU diplomats have said in recent days the bloc will add more than a dozen Russian officials and pro-Russia separatists to the bloc's sanctions list and go after several Crimea-based companies that benefited from Moscow's annexation of the region. Speaking on his way into the meeting, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague called on the bloc to have ready a new phase of broader economic sanctions on Russia, saying they could be needed after Ukraine's presidential elections.
One marvels at Putin's ability to rationalize and accept a vote conducted as armed men stood by at polling places, and the integrity of the secret ballot was called into question.
There is zero chance the Ukrainian government will participate in its own dismemberment. They may negotiate with the separatists but not on the basis of this phoney-baloney referendum. Their real problem is that the official referendum on increasing autonomy for the regions in question might lack legitimacy also, given the violence roiling the region.
But Putin's call for a "civilized" implementation of the results of the referendum shows he's not interested in giving more autonomy to those provinces. While disclaiming interest in annexing them, they may very well fall into his lap anyway if he plays his cards right. And that's something Putin has demonstrated that he has a real talent for.