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Kyiv Rethinks Strategy In East After Rebel Vote

  • RFE/RL

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at a late-September press conference in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at a late-September press conference in Kyiv

President Petro Poroshenko has said Ukraine will "reexamine" its commitments to a truce after pro-Russian rebels' "gross violation" of a September cease-fire deal through their disputed elections in the country’s east.

In an address to the nation on November 3, Poroshenko said he would meet with the National Security and Defense Council on November 4, as "adjustments" have to be made to the plan of action for dealing with the crisis in the east.

Poroshenko said the November 2 separatist elections have "put in great jeopardy the entire peace process."

He called the votes "pseudo-elections" organized by "bandits, terrorists, and invaders" -- a clear reference to Russia, which Kyiv and the West accuse of supplying troops and weapons to the rebels -- who "crowned themselves king."

He said he would propose abolishing a so-called special-status law agreed under the September 5 deal -- struck in Minsk -- that grants limited self-rule for a three-year period to the rebel strongholds.

Kyiv had insisted that local elections must be held in accordance with Ukrainian law, which has set local elections nationwide for December 7.

The self-proclaimed leaders of the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk areas reacted to Poroshenko's announcement by saying in a joint statement that they were ready for dialogue with Kyiv "on an equitable basis."

They added that "no acts that Ukraine adopts unilaterally...will be enforced in our territory."

The rebels refused to participate in the Ukrainian parliamentary elections organized on October 26, in which pro-European parties dominated the vote.

Poroshenko’s address comes after two prominent pro-Russian separatist figures were announced as the winners of the voting held in areas under the separatists’ control in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk on November 2.

Separatist officials said Aleksandr Zakharchenko was elected to head the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and that Igor Plotnitsky won the vote in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic.

"Kyiv should put up with the fact that the Donbas is no longer part of Ukraine," said Roman Lyagin, a separatist election official in Donetsk, using the term "Donbas" to describe an industrial section of eastern Ukraine that partially coincides with the territory held by pro-Russian rebels.

The separatists also held elections for councils purporting to represent residents of the two self-proclaimed republics.

Poroshenko called the votes "electoral farce under the muzzles of tanks."

Western officials denounced the poll as illegal, while Moscow said it "respected" the outcome of the vote.

In a statement, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said: "Those elected have received a mandate to resolve the practical issues of reestablishing normal life in the region."

And Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin called on Ukraine to halt its military offensive against the rebels, telling state news agency TASS the insurgent leaders had enough "authority" to hold talks with Kyiv.

In Washington, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the United States “deplores and does not recognize” the elections.

She added that Moscow's response to the poll has been "out of step with both the letter and the spirit of the Minsk agreements."

Addressing the Canadian parliament in Ottawa, French President Francois Hollande called on Russia's President Vladimir Putin "to stay within the framework" of the September 5 agreement.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel described as "incomprehensible" Moscow's backing of the elections, and warned that Russia could face further sanctions.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the elections "illegal and illegitimate" and an "obstacle to peace."

More than 4,000 combatants and civilians have been killed since April in a conflict between government forces and rebels Kyiv and NATO say have been backed by Russian troops and arms.

Psaki said the United States was "alarmed by reports and images of dozens of unmarked military trucks in eastern Ukraine carrying heavy weaponry and ammunition."

Earlier, NATO's top military commander said Moscow continues to resupply the separatists, and estimated that some 250-300 Russian forces are still operating inside Ukraine.

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove told a news conference at the Pentagon that the troops there now have no combat role and are mostly involved in training.

He said that the truce agreed by Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists on September 5 as part of the peace plan remains "a cease-fire in name only."

He noted what he called a trend toward the hardening of the line of demarcation between Ukrainian government forces and the separatists, saying it "has become more defined."

At the same time, he said, the border between Ukraine and Russia has become "completely porous," allowing for the unhindered movement by the pro-Russian forces.

Breedlove also said that recent incursions into European air space by Russian fighter planes and long-range bombers included larger, more complex formations of aircraft flying more "provocative" routes than usual.

"They are messaging us...that they are a great power and have the ability to exert influence," he said.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and UNIAN