DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — The Kremlin urged the Ukrainian government Monday to engage in talks with
representatives of the eastern part of the country following the controversial referendums where about
90 percent of voters said they backed their regions’ sovereignty.
The statement signaled that Russia has no immediate intention to annex the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces,
like it did with Crimea following a similar referendum in March.
The cautious stance appears to reflect Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hope to negotiate a solution to
what has become the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War.
The Kremlin also urged the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to help broker talks
between the central government in Kiev and representatives of the east after Sunday’s vote.
Ukraine’s central government and the West have condemned the balloting as a sham and a violation of
international law, and accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest in a possible attempt to grab more land
weeks after the annexation of Crimea — accusations that Russia has denied.
“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
Arriving in Brussels for a meeting with his EU counterparts Monday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter
Steinmeier told reporters that he considered the referendum “illegal.”
“We cannot, and must not, take it seriously,” he said.
The Kremlin, in turn, criticized the Ukrainian authorities for trying to thwart the balloting by using
weapons against civilians. It pointed at a “high turnout” in the vote and voiced respect for its
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow sees no need for another four-way meeting
between Russia, the United States, the European Union and Ukraine following their talks in Geneva last
month, saying that the Ukrainian authorities should now focus on dialogue with the east.
According to early returns, 89 percent of those who cast ballots Sunday in the Donetsk region and about
96 percent of those who turned out in the neighboring Luhansk region voted for sovereignty. It remained
unclear whether the vote could lead to their secession.
The pro-Russian insurgents, who organized Sunday’s balloting, said the ultimate status of the regions
would be discussed later and could include the possibility of secession or annexation by Russia or
remaining part of Ukraine.
Election organizers said turnout topped 70 percent by late afternoon, but with no international election
monitors in place, it was all but impossible to confirm such claims. Turnout was brisk at some polling
stations visited by AP journalists. At one polling station at a school in Donetsk, all voting slips that
could be seen in the transparent ballot boxes showed that self-rule had been selected.
Most opponents of sovereignty appeared likely to stay away from the polls rather than risk attracting
attention. Surveys by polling companies have indicated that a significant majority of people in Ukraine
reject movements to break away parts of the country.
There were no immediate signs of any outright intimidation by pro-Russian forces Sunday, and insurgents
near the polls were not wearing their usual balaclavas.
A few days before the vote, Putin had urged the organizers to postpone the balloting in an apparent
attempt to distance himself from the insurgents and keep his hands free for bargaining with the West.
His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quoted by the Kommersant daily Monday as saying that it was difficult
for people in the east to heed Putin’s call because of fighting in the region.
The insurgents in the east have seized government buildings and clashed with government troops and police
over the past month. More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began trying
to retake some eastern cities from the insurgents.
Sunday’s voting in the two regions with a combined population of 6.5 million appeared mostly peaceful,
but armed men opened fire on a crowd outside the town hall in Krasnoarmeisk. The men identified
themselves to a crowd as Ukrainian national guards but the Interior Ministry has denied they were part
of the national guard.
An Associated Press photographer who witnessed the shooting saw two people lay motionless on the ground.
The Interfax news agency later reported that one man died on the spot and another later died of wounds
at a hospital.
The violence in Krasnoarmeisk, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) west from the regional capital, Donetsk,
came hours after armed men put a stop to the voting and took control of the town hall. In the evening,
more armed men arrived in a van, a scuffle broke out with people gathered around the building and the
men fired the shots.
Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of
Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev. Moscow and many in
Ukraine’s east have accused the new government of intending to trample the rights of eastern Ukraine’s