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Independence declared in eastern Ukraine

Russia shies away from annexation

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Evgeniy Maloletka / The Associated Press
A woman rides a scooter past a Ukrainian army checkpoint in eastern Ukraine on Monday.

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Evgeniy Maloletka / The Associated Press A woman rides a scooter past a Ukrainian army checkpoint in eastern Ukraine on Monday.

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Pro-Moscow insurgents in eastern Ukraine declared independence Monday and sought to join Russia, undermining upcoming presidential elections, strengthening the Kremlin's hand and putting pressure on Kyiv to hold talks with the separatists following a referendum on self-rule.

Russia signalled it has no intention of subsuming eastern Ukraine the way it annexed Crimea in March. Instead, Moscow is pushing to include eastern regions in negotiations on Ukraine's future -- suggesting Russia prefers a political rather than a military solution to its worst standoff with the West since the Cold War.

Such talks are central to a potential path toward peace outlined Monday by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The plan laid out by Swiss President Didier Burkhalter calls on all sides to refrain from violence and urges immediate amnesty, talks on decentralization and the status of the Russian language. That's a key complaint of insurgents who have seized power in eastern regions and clashed with government troops and police.

But it's up to the Ukrainian government to take the next step.

Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk pledged to hold a dialogue with Ukraine's east. But he gave no specifics and stopped short of addressing Sunday's referendum and the declarations of independence in the pro-Moscow regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

"We would like to launch the broad national dialogue with the east, centre, the west, and all of Ukraine," Yatsenyuk told a news conference in Brussels, adding the agenda for talks should include changes to the constitution that would give more power to the regions.

Ukraine's central government and the West say the Kremlin has encouraged weeks of unrest in eastern Ukraine in a possible attempt to grab more land. Russia says that's not so and accuses the West of meddling in a region Moscow sees as its backyard.

The Ukrainian government's room to manoeuvre is shrinking. With national presidential elections scheduled for May 25, the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence Monday, and those in Donetsk even asked to join enormous neighbour Russia instead. The sprawling areas along Russia's border, home to about 6.6 million people, form Ukraine's industrial heartland.

"We, the people of the Donetsk People's Republic, based on the results of the May 11, 2014, referendum declare that henceforth the Donetsk People's Republic will be deemed a sovereign state," Denis Pushilin, co-chairman of the insurgent government, said to applause Monday.

Wearing an ill-fitting suit and reading his speech from a Mac laptop, he continued, "The people of Donetsk have always been part of the Russian world, regardless of ethnic affiliation. For us, the history of Russia is our history."

A day earlier, both regions held a slapdash referendum Ukraine's acting president called a "sham" and western governments said violated international law.

"The farce, which terrorists call the referendum, will have no legal consequences except the criminal responsibility for its organizers," Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a dozen people have been added to the list of people being sanctioned by Canada as a result of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said six Russians and six people from Ukraine will face economic consequences for their part in helping Russia violate Ukrainian sovereignty.

The Russians being added to the list include military heavyweights such as Valery Vasilevich Gerasimov, Russia's armed forces chief of the general staff, and Igor Girkin, a member of the military's main intelligence directorate.

Ukrainians facing sanctions include Olga Fedorovna Kovatidi, a member of the Russian Federation Council from the annexed Crimean region.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States does not recognize the results of the vote and is focusing on making sure Ukraine's presidential election takes place as planned in 13 days. But that is starting to look in doubt: Luhansk spokesman Vasily Nikitin said his region will not take part.

The interim government in Kyiv had been hoping the presidential vote would unify the country behind a new, democratically chosen leadership. Ukraine's crisis could grow even worse if regions start rejecting the presidential election. Dozens of people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began trying to retake some eastern cities.

 

-- The Associated Press, with file from The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 13, 2014 A11

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