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Referendum for Self-rule in Eastern Ukraine
May 14, 2014

Residents of two regions of eastern Ukraine turned out in significant numbers on May 11 to vote in support of self-rule in a referendum that threatens to deepen divisions in a country already heading perilously toward civil war.The wording of the referendum was vague, asking whether voters favoured self-determination rather than outright independence or joining Russia. 

But the vote infuriated the Ukrainian government, who called it a criminal farce arranged by a gang of Russian terrorists, reflecting the government’s view that Russian agents are behind the breakaway movement. Both the European Union and the Obama administration said they  would not recognize the results of the balloting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which they called illegal.

Roman Lyagin, head of the separatist election commission in Donetsk, said that nearly three-quarters of the 3.32 million eligible voters in the region had cast ballots. Over 89 percent of voters approved the measure. The vote will complicate Ukraine’s efforts to reestablish order in the wake of a revolt that ousted the country’s pro-Russian president in February and prompted a backlash in the east. Ukraine has scheduled national elections for May 25. But after the referendum result Lyagin said, “It is not logical to have the presidential election here on the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic.” 

The U.S. and European governments have threatened Russia with further sanctions if the national vote is disrupted.

Ukrainian troops have been trying to wrest back control of eastern cities where separatists have seized government buildings and set up checkpoints manned by militias. Despite the government’s condemnation of the vote, its armed forces generally allowed balloting to proceed. But Ukrainian national guardsmen shut down the voting in the eastern city of Krasnoarmeysk and later fired into a crowd outside the town hall.

Separatist leaders have in the past come out clearly in favuor of independence or of union with Russia, and they have suggested that another referendum to decide that question could take place. Lyagin said there was no plan for a quick second referendum, but he did not deny that one might eventually occur.

Russia is almost certain to embrace the vote as legitimate. In a speech that blared over loudspeakers in a rebel military camp in Luhansk, Russian nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky congratulated people for their absolute victory


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