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Russia, Western Powers Clash At UN Over Elections In Eastern Ukraine

An election campaign billboard seen on a street in Donetsk this month.
An election campaign billboard seen on a street in Donetsk this month.

Russia has clashed with the United States and European powers at the United Nations over the legality of elections in areas of eastern Ukraine held by Moscow-backed separatists.

During debate on the planned elections in Donetsk and Luhansk on November 11, the UN's political chief said she backed the Western view that the votes would violate a 2015 accord laying out steps for settling the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The position taken by UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo left Russia isolated at the UN Security Council meeting. Western allies also blocked Russia from bringing a Luhansk separatist official, Olena Kravchenko, before the council to provide a briefing on the elections.

In a vote called by Western states on whether she could speak, Russia was the only one in favor, with seven countries against and seven abstaining. A minimum of nine votes in favor were needed for Kravchenko to speak.

Before the meeting began, a joint statement from France, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, and Germany was read outside the council chamber condemning what they called "the illegitimate 'elections' planned for November 11."

The statement said such elections would violate Ukrainian law and "contravene commitments" made by separatists and Russia under the 2015 agreement reached in Minsk, Belarus.

The European Union countries urged the international community to unite in opposing the elections, saying the votes "can only serve to undermine efforts to achieve peace in the region."

They urged the separatists to abandon plans for the elections and called on Russia "to bring its considerable influence to bear to stop the so-called 'elections' from taking place."

"Russia must play its part by ending its financial and military support to the separatists and withdrawing its armed forces and military equipment from Ukrainian territory," the European states said.

The U.S. deputy ambassador to the UN, Jonathan Cohen, later also claimed the "sham elections staged by Russia" violated the Minsk agreement, which states that elections must be held in accordance with Ukrainian law and be supervised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Cohen said the Kremlin was using the elections to bolster the authorities it has installed in Donetsk and Luhansk, which he said "are inseparable from the illegal armed groups controlled by Moscow."

The 2015 Minsk agreement has helped reduce hostilities, DiCarlo told the council, but "there has been little progress in talks to end the fighting."

"The conflict in eastern Ukraine, now in its fifth year, remains an active threat to international peace and security," she said.

More than 10,300 people have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian forces and the separatists since April 2014. DiCarlo said that cease-fire violations had increased and casualties risen over the last six weeks.

The assistant UN secetary-general for humanitarian affairs, Ursula Mueller, told the Security Council that more than 100 people had been killed by mines and other explosives in the area so far this year.

More than 3,000 civilians have been killed and up to 9,000 injured in the conflict, Mueller said.

DiCarlo said the Minsk agreements, which were endorsed by the Security Council, are the only agreed framework for a negotiated peace in eastern Ukraine.

She warned that any elections held "outside Ukraine's constitutional and legal framework would be incompatible with the Minsk agreements."

Russia's UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya argued that the elections "have nothing to do with the Minsk package" because they are municipal elections.

The votes are needed "to fill the vacuum in power" following the August 31 murder of Donetsk separatist leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko, who was a signatory to the 2015 agreements, Nebenzya said.

Nebenzya claimed that the elections are also necessary as a result of what he called "sabotage by Kyiv of its political commitments."

Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko accused Russia of waging a "disinformation campaign," and blaming Ukraine for everything that happens in Donetsk and Luhansk.

He repeated Ukraine's position that the results of what he called the "fake" November 11 elections will be "null and void."

With reporting by AFP and AP
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