Russia said it respected the outcome of the referendum, in which
separatists in the industrial Donetsk region claimed 90 percent
support, and that the results should be implemented peacefully. It
did not say what further action it might take.
Hours after the vote, dismissed by Kiev and Western governments as
illegal, rebel leaders' plans remained unclear. Some have publicly
supported pressing for annexation by Russia, which absorbed Crimea
after a similar vote in March.
"This land was never Ukraine ... we speak Russian," said Vyacheslav
Ponomaryov, rebel mayor of the separatist stronghold of Slaviansk,
threatening to kick out the Ukrainian army.
Asked about the possibility of holding a second referendum, on union
with Russia, he said: "There has been no decision, but this
referendum showed we are prepared ... we can put on an election or
referendum at short notice at barely any cost."
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said rebel forces had made a new
attempt overnight to seize a television tower on the edge of
Slaviansk, heartland of a rebellion that has widened the worst
standoff between Russia and the West worst since the Cold War.
"The information war that they are waging against us in the Donbass
(east) is more dangerous than a bullet. We must answer back ... the
enemy fears this more than special forces," he wrote on Facebook.
But there was some hint of compromise in the port city of Mariupol,
scene of fierce fighting between Ukrainian forces and rebels over
the last week.
Turchinov said local police had begun patrols with a volunteer
militia set up by a company, Metinvest, mostly owned by Ukraine's
wealthiest businessman, Rinat Akhmetov. His words implicitly
endorsed the arrangement.
A photograph on the company's website showed steelworkers from his
company, dressed in working overalls and helmets, but unarmed,
walking with police through city streets. Akhmetov had offered to
provide the militia as part of an arrangement with loyalist police
to restore order in the city.
Akhmetov had also proposed that the military should not be brought
again into Mariupol.
RUSSIA RESPECTS "WILL OF THE PEOPLE"
Turchinov made no mention of this part of Akhmetov's proposals but
dismissed the separatist vote as a farce.
"These processes are inspired by the leadership of the Russian
Federation and are destructive to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions'
economies, threaten the lives and welfare of citizens and have the
aim of destabilizing the situation in Ukraine, disrupting (May 25)
presidential elections and overthrowing Ukrainian authorities," he
said in a statement.
The presidential vote is intended to secure democratic continuity
and legitimacy following Yanukovich's flight to Moscow in February.
The referendum opened a new phase of uncertainty in a country
historically divided between a Russian-speaking east and a more
westward looking west. One man was killed in a confrontation on
Sunday between a National Guard unit and a crowd of pro-Russian
The authorities are wary of the danger of clashes between security
forces and crowds that could stir wider bloodshed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin did not comment personally at a
state residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi but the Kremlin
released a statement on the referendum.
"We condemn the use of force, including of heavy weapons against
civilians ... in Moscow, we respect the will of the people of the
Donetsk and Luhansk regions and are counting on practical
implementation of the outcome of the referendum in a civilized
manner, without any repeat of violence and through dialogue," it
[to top of second column]
The European Union declared the referendum illegal and prepared to
increase pressure on Russia on Monday by taking a first step towards
extending sanctions to companies, as well as people, linked to
Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Western leaders, faced
with Russian assertiveness not seen since the Cold War, have
threatened more sanctions in the key areas of energy, financial
services and engineering if Moscow disrupts a presidential election
planned in Ukraine on May 25.
EU officials have prepared a list of 14 people and two Crimean
companies active in the energy sector that ministers are likely to
add to the EU sanctions list, EU diplomats said.
But the EU will remain far behind the United States in the severity
of the sanctions it has imposed on Russia. Some European governments
fear tough trade sanctions on Russia could undermine their own
economies, just recovering from the financial crisis, and provoke
RUSSIAN TROOPS AT BORDER
Moscow denies any ambitions to absorb the mainly Russian-speaking
east, an industrial hub, into the Russian Federation following its
annexation of Crimea after a referendum on the Black Sea peninsula
The Ukrainian government came to power when President Viktor
Yanukovich was toppled in February after mass protests in Kiev.
One leading separatist said Ukrainian troops in the east would be
declared illegal occupiers.
"It is necessary to form state bodies and military authorities as
soon as possible," Denis Pushilin, a leader of the self-styled
Donetsk republic said.
Roman Lyagin, head of the rebel central electoral commission in
Donetsk, also took a strong position on the results.
"That can be considered the final and official result," he said,
reporting 89.07 percent for and 10.19 percent against. "We demand
the right to self-determination, and we will get it."
"With the announcement of the results, the status of the Donetsk
region does not change in absolute terms. We do not cease to be a
part of Ukraine, we do not become a part of Russia," he said,
although he left those options open.
Moscow has massed troops on the border and Kiev fears they may be
called in as peacekeepers. Serhiy Pashinsky, head of the Ukrainian
presidential administration, said a column of armored vehicles on
the Russian side of the border bore the colors of U.N. peacekeeping
forces. He offered no evidence or detail.
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, and Adrian Croft
and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Writing by Ralph Boulton, Philippa
Fletcher and Peter Cooney, Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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