Pro-Russia separatists at a barricade near the regional state building in Donetsk on Monday. (AFP)
Donetsk/Slaviansk (Ukraine), May 12 (Reuters): Pro-Moscow rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine called today for their region to become part of Russia after declaring victory in a weekend referendum on self-rule.
The separatist region of Donetsk appealed to Moscow to consider its absorption into Russia, a move that would echo the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula after a similar referendum earlier this year.
The call is likely to anger the government in Kiev and western nations that accuse Russia of stirring up unrest in the east following the overthrow of a pro-Moscow President in February by protesters demanding closer links with Europe.
“The people of Donetsk have always been part of the Russian world. For us, the history of Russia is our history,” said Denis Pushilin, a leading member of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic”.
“Based on the will of the people and on the restoration of a historic justice, we ask the Russian Federation to consider the absorption of the Donetsk People’s Republic into the Russian Federation,” he told a news conference.
Moscow denies any ambitions to absorb the mainly Russian-speaking east into the Russian Federation. However, it has massed troops on the Ukrainian border, and Kiev fears they may be sent in.
Ukrainian President Oleksander Turchinov accused Russia of working to overthrow legitimate state power in Ukraine.
He said the Kremlin was trying to disrupt a presidential election later this month, which is taking centre stage in a confrontation pitting Moscow and the separatists against the government in Kiev and its western backers.
RIA news agency quoted a rebel leader as saying the eastern Luhansk region would boycott the May 25 election. What he called the “Republic of Luhansk” may hold a further referendum on union with Russia, as Ukraine’s Crimea region did under Russian military occupation before its annexation by Moscow in March.
Moscow said it respected the outcome of yesterday’s referendums, in which separatists claimed 80 per cent support in the industrial Donetsk region, while RIA, a Russian state news agency, reported 96.2 per cent backing in Luhansk region. The results should be implemented peacefully, Russia said, without saying what further action it might take.