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Russia Calls For Talks Between Kyiv, Separatists On Self-Rule

A Cossack with a whip stands guard at a polling station during a widely disputed referendum on the status of the Donetsk and Luhansk.
The Russian government says Ukrainian officials in Kyiv should hold talks with pro-Russian separatists on the results of widely disputed self-rule referendums in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin said on May 12 that it respects the "expression of the people's will" in the referendums held in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions the previous day.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that, without including the separatists in talks to resolve the Ukraine crisis, "nothing will be achieved."

Self-styled separatist functionaries in eastern Ukraine claimed a high voter turnout and overwhelming majorities voting for independence in the two regions on May 11.

Activists in Donetsk said 89.7 percent had voted "yes" to self-rule. Turnout there was put at about 75 percent.

In Luhansk, a separatist election official said 96 percent of those who voted in Luhansk supported independence.

Oleksandr Malykhyn, the self-styled deputy chairman of Luhansk's election committee, added that turnout was 81 percent in Luhansk, which has a population of some 2.25 million people.

No international monitors observed the vote.

Many media outlets reported various irregularities during the referendums, including people voting multiple times and children casting ballots.

But Moscow said the results of the votes should be "implemented in a civilized manner."

ALSO READ: Separatists Claim Victory In East Ukraine Self-Rule Vote

Several Western politicians criticized the votes.

"Figures from fake referendums in eastern Ukraine likely to be fake. No way of even knowing official turnout," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on his Twitter account on May 11.

French President Francois Hollande declared the referendum results "null and void."

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry called the referendums a "criminal farce" that was organized by Moscow.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the vote was "inspired, organized, and financed by the Kremlin."

Despite the criticism, Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin said the next step would be to create government and military structures in the Donetsk region.

Pavel Gubarev, the self-declared "people's governor" of Donetsk, told Russian TV that the vote was only the first step in building the country of "New Russia" in southeast Ukraine.

In Luhansk, pro-Russian separatists say they will not allow voting for the Ukrainian presidential election to be conducted in the province.

Vasyl Mykytyn, a self-styled spokesman for the Army of the Southeast, said on May 12 that since the region is known as the "Luhansk People's Republic," the May 25 Ukrainian presidential election will not be held in the region.

Tensions remained high in eastern Ukraine amid an ongoing military operation ordered by Kyiv against the rebels.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department called the votes "an attempt to create further division and disorder."

The European Union also declared the vote illegal.

Later in Brussels on May 12, EU diplomats agreed to impose sanctions against 13 additional individuals and two companies because of their involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

It is reportedly the first time the EU has targeted companies.

Diplomats said the two Crimean companies that will be subject to sanctions were nationalized by Russia after it annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

The 13 Russians and Crimeans bring to a total of 61 the number of individuals who will face EU travel bans and asset freezes over the Ukraine crisis.

The EU will announce the names of the companies and individuals that were sanctioned later on May 12.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa
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