Donetsk rebel leader calls for attachment to Russia

Announcement by self-styled head of the ‘People’s Republic of Donestk’ comes a day after a referendum was held in east Ukraine

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The self-proclaimed head of the “People’s Republic of Donetsk” in eastern Ukraine on Monday declared the region a sovereign state and asked Russia to consider allowing it to accede, soon after declaring victory in a referendum for independence from Kiev.

“Proceeding from the expression of the will of the people of the Donetsk People’s Republic and in order to restore historical justice, we ask the Russian Federation to consider the issue of the Donetsk People’s Republic becoming part of the Russian Federation,” Denis Pushilin told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The people of Donetsk have always been part of the Russian world. For us, the history of Russia is our history,” he added.

Going against what many had suspected, Pushilin also said on Monday that that there would not be a vote on joining Russia next week.

Earlier on Monday, the pro-Russian rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum on self-rule for eastern Ukraine, with some saying that meant independence and others eventual union with Russia as fighting flared in a conflict increasingly out of control.

Organizers in the main region holding the makeshift vote on Sunday said nearly 90 percent had voted in favor.

Meanwhile, a scheduled presidential Ukrainian election set by interim authorities for May 25 - seen by the West as vital to restoring order – “will not happen” in the Donetsk region, Pushilin said on Monday.

Speaking to reporters a day after a referendum considered a farce by Kiev and the West, Denis Pushilin from the “People’s Republic of Donetsk” also said there would not be a vote on joining Russia next week as many had suspected.

Led by U.S. President Barack Obama, Western powers have threatened to step up sanctions against Russia, which they blame for stoking unrest in eastern Ukraine, if the presidential election does not go ahead as planned.

Pushilin claimed he now had a mandate from the people after a “referendum” he said delivered a 89-percent result in favour of independence with a voter turnout of 75 percent.

“We have received sovereignty, the right to decide independently to enter into a confederation or federation with any country,” he said.

“Which country that could be will be decided after consultations with our experts,” he added, AFP reported.

However, only Russia is likely to recognize the “People’s Republic of Donetsk” and the Kremlin has already said it “respects the expression of the people’s will” there.

The United States responded to the news of the poll’s results by saying Monday it does not recognize the “illegal referendum” held over the weekend in east Ukraine that called for the region to break away from Kiev.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the vote organized by pro-Russian elements in Donetsk and Lugansk “was an attempt to create further division and disorder in the country.”

“We do not recognize the illegal referendum,” she said. “It was illegal under Ukraine law.”

Also on Monday, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and the head of Europe’s main security and rights watchdog agreed on Monday that the agency should do more to initiate dialogue between Ukraine’s interim government in Kiev and separatists in the east, according to Reuters.

During a phone call, Putin and OSCE chief Didier Burkhalter noted “the importance of stepping up efforts along the OSCE line aimed at resolving the crisis situation, including by setting up a direct dialogue between the authorities in Kiev and representatives of southeastern regions of Ukraine,” the Kremlin said.

Meanwhile, Russia’s prime minister said that Moscow could punish the small landlocked country of Moldova – also a former state of the Soviet Union along with its neighbor Ukraine – after a Russian politician’s plane was briefly held while travelling in the region over the weekend, according to the Associated Press.

Dmitry Medvedev told a meeting of government officials that Russia would take the episode into account “with regards to economic cooperation” with Moldova.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was visiting the separatist province of Trans-Dniester on Friday, where he collected signatures for a petition calling on Moscow to recognize the region as independent from Moldova. Boxes containing some of the signatures were confiscated by Moldovan authorities at Chisinau airport.

In March, just weeks after former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich fled the country after months of protests, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea region of Crimea in March after a referendum there, heightening fears that Moscow would move to grab more territory in eastern Ukraine or Moldova’s Trans-Dniester region, which has a majority Russian-speaking population and where 1,500 Russian troops are already based.

(With AFP and the Associated Press)

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