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NATO Commander Warns That Separatist Polls In Ukraine Don't Help

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, U.S. European Command Commander and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supreme allied commander, holds a media briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on November 3.
U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, U.S. European Command Commander and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supreme allied commander, holds a media briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on November 3.

NATO's top military commander has said the elections held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine do not correspond with a September 5 peace plan and will not improve the situation.

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, speaking at a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington on November 3, said, "We don't recognize them. We didn't support them. We don't think that they are helpful."

His remarks came after pro-Russian separatists held votes on October 2 in areas of eastern Ukraine under their control, in defiance of criticism and without internationally recognized election monitoring.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko dismissed the voting as a "farce" and has suggested it contravenes commitments signed onto in a cease-fire agreement from early September.

Western government leaders have denounced the votes as illegal.

Breedlove also said that Russia continues to resupply the pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine, and he estimated that some 250-300 Russian forces are still operating inside Ukraine.

He said the troops have no combat role and are mostly involved in training.

Breedlove said some Russian troop formations were brought closer to the border with Ukraine during the separatist election.

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 airspace by Russian fighter planes and long-range bombers included larger, more complex formations of aircraft flying more "provocative" routes than they usually do.

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

'All For Ourselves'

Earlier, the self-proclaimed authorities in rebel-held sections of eastern Ukraine said prominent pro-Russian separatist figures have won the voting.

Separatist officials said that Aleksandr Zakharchenko was elected to head the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and that Igor Plotnitsky won about 64 percent of the vote in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, according to a full count of ballots cast on November 2.

"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.

"Whether they acknowledge the expression of our will or refuse to recognize it -- that is Kyiv's business. We have decided it all for ourselves," he said at a news conference after declaring Zakharchenko the victor.

The separatists also held elections for councils purporting to represent residents of the two self-proclaimed republics, which declared independence from Kyiv after armed gunmen seized government buildings in the spring.

Moscow's Hand

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the elections "illegal and illegitimate" and an "obstacle to peace" in eastern Ukraine, where 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.

In a brief foreign ministry statement on November 3, Moscow made clear it saw the elections as legitimate -- and turned up the pressure on Kyiv to reckon with the rebels.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin called on Ukraine to halt its military offensive against pro-Moscow rebels in the east, saying the insurgent leaders had enough "authority" to hold talks with Kyiv.

Karasin told state news agency TASS the rebel leaders elected "have enough authority to establish broad sustainable dialogue with Kiev authorities."

In accordance with the September 5 cease-fire, Poroshenko's government has granted the rebel-held areas limited self-rule for a three-year period, but it insists that local elections must be held in accordance with Ukrainian law, which has set local elections nationwide for December 7.

The separatists refused to participate in Ukrainian parliamentary elections held on October 26.

Ukraine's military said on November 2 that Russia had launched an "intensive deployment of military equipment and personnel" from Russia into parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by the separatists.

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