The leaders of France and Germany have joined Ukraine's president in urging Russian President Vladimir Putin not to recognize this weekend's rebel-held elections in the breakaway Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The request came in a four-way telephone conversation overnight between Putin, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko after Kyiv and Moscow sealed an EU-brokered deal meant to guarantee Russian gas supplies to Ukraine through March.
A statement from Poroshenko's office said that "Ukraine, Germany and France expressed [the] clear common position that they would not recognize the elections planned by separatists."
It said the elections on rebel-held territory would contradict an agreement reached in Minsk on September 5 and aimed at ending the conflict between Kyiv and the pro-Russian rebels, which has killed mote than 3,700 people since April and poisoned East-West ties.
It said Poroshenko, Merkel, and Hollande "urged Russia not to recognize those elections as well."
Merkel's spokesman, Georg Streiter, said that "Merkel and Hollande underlined that there can only be a ballot in line with Ukrainian law."
He said the votes would violate the Minsk agreement and further complicate efforts to find a solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
"The German government will not recognize these illegitimate elections," Streiter told a news conference, adding that European leaders were united on this issue and had agreed on this at a summit last week in Brussels.
Moscow has made no formal recognition of the "people's republics" that the separatists have proclaimed in Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Kremlin denies involvment in the conflict despite what Kyiv and NATO say is clear evidence that Russia has sent troops and weapons into Ukraine to help the separatists.
'Of Course' Moscow Will Recognize Votes
In comments published on October 28, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would "of course recognize the results" of the separatists' elections.
The Kremlin statement about the telephone conversation made no mention of the votes.
It also said the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation of steps agreed in Minsk in an effort to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and it underscored the need to observe the cease-fire that was central to that agreement.
The Kremlin said Russia believes the "the establishment of a steady dialogue" between Kyiv and the separatists would "undoubtedly" help stabilize the situation.
Kremlin critics say Russia supported the September 5 agreement because it followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Donetsk and Luhansk, potentially giving Moscow a lever of influence on Ukraine for years to come.
The November 2 balloting in the rebel-held regions comes a week after those areas stayed out of voting in Ukraine's parliamentary elections on October 26, in which pro-Western parties won a sweeping victory.
Poroshenko proposed on October 31 that Arseniy Yatsenyuk stay on as prime minister following the country's parliamentary election last weekend.
"I have proposed that the Petro Poroshenko Bloc put forward Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the post of prime minister," Poroshenko wrote on Twitter.
Yatsenyuk's People's Front party narrowly beat out the Petro Poroshenko Bloc in voting by party in the October 26 election, according to a nearly complete count.
But Poroshenko's bloc fared better in first-past-the-post voting and was positioned to take more parliament seats than the People's Front, according to election-commission data.
Yatsenyuk is a vocal critic of Russia and is popular among Western governments for his support for economic reforms.
He is a target of criticism from Russian officials who say the government that came to power in Ukraine after former President Viktor Yanukovych fled in February in the face of protests was an illegal coup d'etat supported by the West.
Russia annexed the Crimea reegion from Ukraine in February, adding to tension that increased still further when the conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted the following month.
The hard-fought gas deal provided what European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger called "perhaps the first glimmer of a relaxation" between Ukraine and Russia.
Russia had raised the price it was asking Kyiv pay for gas after Yanukovych's ouster and then stopped supplying gas to Ukraine in June, citing what it said was $5.3 billion in debt and demanding advance payment for any future supplies.
In their telephone call, the French, German, Russian and Ukrainian leaders welcomed the gas deal, signed late on October 30 in Brussels, a German government spokesperson said. The Kremlin statement called the agreement "an important step in the context of the future provision of uninterrupted transit of gas to Europe."
Oettinger said that under the accord, Ukraine will pay Russia $1.45 billion in gas arrears within "days" for Moscow to resume gas deliveries.
He said Russia will then "immediately" lower Ukraine's gas price by $100 per 1,000 cubic metres.
Yatsenyuk, in figures later confirmed by Moscow, said Ukraine would pay $378 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of 2014 and $365 in the first quarter of 2015.
Kyiv will subsequently have access to Russian gas deliveries in exchange for pre-payment, according to Oettinger.
He said Ukraine also agreed to settle another $1.65 billion in arrears by the end of the year.
The deal is expected to include EU funding to help Ukraine pay.
Oettinger said, "we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter," not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region.
Ukraine normally relies on Russia for about the half the gas it uses, and the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.
Russia also provides about one-third of the gas consumed in the European Union, with about half of that pumped via Ukraine.
The EU was seeking to avoid a repeat of 2006 and 2009, when Russia halted supplies to Ukraine during prce disputes, disrupting deliveries to Europe during two cold winters.
News of the agreement appeared to bring relief in Europe, with British wholesale gas prices for November and December falling to their lowest ever levels on October 31.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP