Russian Backs Ukrainian Separatist Vote

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -

Moscow offered warm support Monday for rebel-organized elections in eastern Ukraine — an endorsement that could only serve to keep the West’s sanctions against Russia in place.

Pro-Russian separatist authorities said Sunday’s vote gives them a powerful mandate to slip further from Ukrainian rule.

Plans for the election had been condemned by the EU and the United States, which said it violated Ukrainian law and undermined a 2-month-old cease-fire deal that has existed only on paper.

“The United States deplores and does not recognize yesterday’s so-called separatist elections in eastern Ukraine, nor do we recognize any of the leaders chosen in this illegal vote,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday. “If Russia were to recognize the so-called elections, it would only serve to isolate it further.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry indicated in a statement that it would refrain from supporting outright independence for the Donbass, as Ukraine’s heavily industrial eastern regions are known collectively.

“In view of the elections, it is extremely important to take active steps toward promoting sustained dialogue between central Ukrainian authorities and the representatives of the Donbass,” the Russian statement said.

A rebuke was swift in coming from Germany, which deems Russia’s position on the vote in the rebel-held areas detrimental to the September truce deal signed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. That accord envisioned local elections being held across the whole of the east and under Kiev’s supervision.