Sunday elections in Donetsk and Luhansk republics have raised new hopes in the breakaway regions and – annoyed Kiev authorities and its Western allies, who claim the vote was ‘illegal’ and damaging for peace process. Was it, really? How did it go and what are the likely implications? Radio VR is discussing it with Prof. Dušan Janjić (Serbia) and Graham Phillips, journalist, based in Donetsk.
Western leaders have refused to recognize the results of the vote in Donetsk and Luhansk regions held on November, 2, as “illegal”.
"We stated very clearly already on Sunday evening that these so-called elections are not only illegal and illegitimate and will not be recognized, but also that they risk putting the path of dialogue and peace in serious danger, that was in a difficult but wise way put in place by [Ukrainian] President [Petro] Poroshenko with the work on the Minsk protocol and the Minsk process,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Tuesday.
Following the Sunday vote Mr. Poroshenko already went as far as suggesting to abolish the law on the special status of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – a key provision in Minsk Protocol, stipulating conditions for ceasefire and signed during the meeting in Minsk on September, 5 by the representatives of Kiev and southeastern Ukraine's independence supporters.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Russia would respect the choice of the people in the south-eastern regions of Ukraine. It also maintains that the vote does not contradict Minsk agreements.
However, the West has not always been consistent in recognizing, or rejecting election results in different countries. Says Dušan Janjić, Senior Researcher of the Institute for Social Sciences in Belgrade:
“I'm not basically astonished that the EU is not recognizing. We had a similar experience, but on the opposite side, when the EU recognized the elections in Kosovo, as they organized the power institutions under Milošević. Basically, the European Commission at that time, and later the EU and Washington accepted the results. Later, when Kosovo came under the mandate of UN, they did not recognize the elections organized by Belgrade and the Serbian community. From 2008, when Kosovo proclaimed its independence, only 5 EU countries recognized Kosovo, and from that moment they were insisting that all the elections that were organized by Belgrade are illegal and that they are the parallel ones. Basically, the EU is following this agenda that Kosovo has to be accepted as the independent state and fully recognized.
In the eastern Ukraine’s case, that is not the case. Basically, they want to support the so-called territorial integrity of Ukraine, but they are not ready to see how to solve the problem in the territorial framework. And for that I found out that there is the same methodology, but we have different results. In Kosovo they had the result that the Serbian community is forced to be integrated in Kosovo. In Ukraine they have the opposite results – they are forcing the people from eastern Ukraine to look for the solutions out of Ukraine.
The new election in the eastern Ukraine is a prolongation of crisis. And that is bringing the parallel institutions, from the point of view of Kiev and the EU. And for the EU that is one step ahead in the direction of the federalization of Ukraine.
If I could say so, the EU is dreaming to postpone the moment it is faced the crisis. And for the moment I understand that it is not ready to go into a direct dialog with the people from the eastern Ukraine and with Russia. It is possible that the collateral effect of not recognizing the elections will be that the US will have to be directly involved in the negotiations with Moscow. Maybe that is the strategy – not recognizing what has happened on the spot, but learn the lesson that the EU is not able to manage the Ukrainian crisis.
The Ukrainian crisis has started from the Maidan and maybe before, from the Orange Revolution. It has the shared wider effects not only on the EU, it is clear that it could not be solved if you only focus on the Russian-EU relations, because we have a lot of effects on the Asia, Central Asia, we have a lot of effects on the Balkans, we have a lot of effects on the wider Eurasia. And for that, I think it is the time for the global power like the US to look to find a common language with Moscow. That’s why I think the US has more possibilities than the EU to manage the issue sometimes looking at the Central Asia, but thinking of Ukraine, sometimes looking at the Baltic states, but thinking of Ukraine. In the end Moscow and Washington have to solve the problem of the status of influence of Russia, because Russia could not be pressed to be only a regional power. It is stronger than the regional power, European or Eurasian power. And that must be in some way recognized by Washington.
I know very well now that Washington is faced with the new presidential elections. But maybe during this period they will postpone it. But I could not see the room for postponing. And maybe this is the trump card to try to do something to reduce the negative effect on the image of the Democratic Party for the new coming presidential elections. I'm not saying that the dialog will start immediately, but I know that there are some contacts.
And I'm expecting that in a few months we will have some concrete results, trying to in some way to institutionalize the crisis and to separately talk about the eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and also to talk about the crucial issues, like the energy issue in Europe and Central Asia. And without the cooperation with Russia the EU cannot solve the problem of energy, and I think vice versa, the same is true for the States. The States could not force the EU any longer to be in some kind of economic opposition to Russia. So, basically, the energy issue has to be in some way connected to the security issue and the influence of NATO in the EU. Maybe that is the agenda for the discussion between Washington and Moscow”.
And now with first-hand account of how the vote was held, here is Graham Phillips, journalist covering the crisis from Donetsk:
“You know, there was a very positive mood. People have turned out. The real atmosphere was positive – positive approach and attitudes towards the people, who were seeing this as a chance to cast their vote and make their point. So, they did it. There was a turnout of some one million across the Donetsk region. I mean, the people have come out in an atmosphere which is still a climate of fear here and they’ve cast their vote, and they’ve made their choice. And of course, it is Zakharchenko and the Donetsk Republic Party.
I've visited several polling stations myself. Other colleagues here, journalists visited the polling stations. And it was definitely different from the referendum six months ago. I think we have to be realistic here and define the referendum – if you like – a mass petition. I mean, the process here was different. The protocol was different. People were passing over passports and were given the forms, and then those would go in boxes. And it was a little different.
The referendum was a mass show, a mass protest, a mass petition. But this was a proper election. There is no question, this adhered to the international standards as verified, as reiterated, as clarified, as emphasized by the OSCE – the international observers here. Also the OSCE has checked the polling stations. And with my own experience, I've visited several, I saw exactly that. Everything was in order, everything was structured, everything was organized and it was exactly what you would expect in a proper election. I mean, the proper procedure was adhered to.
But you also had other scenes, first of all, given the size of people who still live in very difficult circumstances here in Donetsk. And it is very unfortunately that those Western correspondents, many of them who’ve come here, came specifically to undermine and to ridicule, and to mock at the election. We really have to define it as a good standard of election, an election which in the words of the international observers here met the international standards. They really made a strong call for the need to recognize.
And we are all looking at the election held in the circumstances of a civil war. We are looking at people turning out when you still risk a shelling. And that started again today in Donetsk. People are being killed. There's been a shelling today from the Ukrainian artillery, from the Ukrainian military. But they turned out on Sunday to make their voices heard, to cast their ballots and make their choice. The size made shifts from six months ago, when, like I tell, there was this huge kind of breakaway, this huge kind of uprising. I mean, the people’s moods now are different. People are weary, people are beleaguered.
But there is one thing that is clear – the Kiev Government has lost the hearts and minds of these people.
So, what happened in both regions – in both the Donetsk and Lugansk regions – was really a very structured and systemized show of a popular movement, which had a different tone, a different resonance than six months ago when it’d been, as I said, this new sense of this huge kind of breaking away. And now, six months down the line people are living under the circumstances of war and death. But there was a real resilience to people, there was a real sense that it wasn’t now this huge new revolution, as it had been with the referendum, but there was a real sense of resilience.
The sense of people having suffered, but people having survived, people having persevered, people having not given up, people having hang in the air and people having now welcomed and really embraced this opportunity to declare that the Donetsk and the Lugansk republics exist and they exist in a democratic form. They exist with the Prime Minister, the parliament is being formed. So, they exist in a structured and systemized way that really gives these territories – the Lugansk and Donetsk republics which are combined under the Novorossya – they really do have now this sense of having already long ago left the fold of Ukraine and now beginning an embarking on a new course of action, which, unfortunately, still continues and still endures under the climate of war.
But also, it does now have a greater power and a greater voice, a greater strength, as much as it does have a legitimate and a democratic election which was held and which was supported, and which was carried out adhering to the protocol procedure and which the people are now proud of here. And there were so many positive sentiments from the international observers about the impressive turnout and about the real sense of people, who were just welcoming this chance to make their voices heard. The people were really embracing this.
And it is a new start. Unfortunately, as I say, it comes under the backdrop of further deaths and fatalities, and shelling that is continuing. And of course, we now have the newest report that the Ukrainians are actually strengthening their positions. So, we are seeing the signs that there might be imminent incursions, imminent assaults by the Ukrainian side. And that really fits in the line of Kiev declaring that it is going to withdraw the autonomy status of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which would really amount to nothing more than a formality, more than cheap words from Kiev.
We are now really looking at more and more gloomy attempts, which is an attack on a territory which has broken away, which has declared itself independent, which has fulfilled itself into a format, into an actual country, into an actual nation which is the Novorossya, combining these Donetsk and Lugansk republics which are conjoined. I mean, there is no question that they are different, they have the legitimate bodies, but they are together, they are partners and they are now a country which is being attacked by another country. I mean, you have to think of things in these terms now – as Ukraine wanting to attack a sovereign state which has broken away.
And it really seems more and more ridiculous when you have these sentiments expressed in Kiev – of Ukraine being one. Because it is one thing to have EuroMaidan – a violent revolution which broke up a country. But what happened here began as a protest, it began as a storm, there were takeovers of buildings. And it was determined, but the aims and the aspirations were peaceful. And that’s really what the people want here – simply peace. People want to live their lives. People want to restore, to rebuild. People want to have some sense of looking into the future with hope, which is the sentiment expressed to me on Sunday by voters here.
But Kiev seems to be moving more and more out of way, continuing this barricading, continuing this barrage, continuing this shelling, continuing this assault and, perhaps, even escalating this assault. This means that more and more infrastructure is destroyed, more and more damage inflicted, more and more people killed and injured – people that now belong to a different country. A country that, as I say, the election on Sunday declared and declared to be the one that is apart and the one that is now a separate and a sovereign, and an entity of itself.
And I think with the elections, what we really saw was a chance for the residents here to show that while we do have a conflict going on here, the vast majority of everyone here are the civilians, they are simply the residents of Donetsk. These are not the members of any military service, there was not anyone carrying arms, these are simply the civilians who turned out in such a force to show that the peaceful voice that they have is what they want to be heard and that that’s what they want to define their future as the one of peace and want, as Zakharchenko said, – building a new state.
And they really would like to be that. People had come with the Ukrainian passports to vote, but the comment that they had in many cases was the Donetsk Republic. And I spoke to people. And one very intelligent young lady with the polling station 126 simply said to me – no one now wants Ukraine. I mean, if six months ago there’s been a sense of some having doubts, of some having reservation, it is now a case that the Kiev actions have so alienated people here, have so lost people here that it is clear that there is no returning.
And it is unfortunate, I'm being here as the journalist, but there aren’t more Western journalists who’d make that point, sadly. They’ve picked up on this new organization, they’ve picked up on elections as something to undermine rather than to listen to. If it had happened at the referendum six months ago, we've could have avoided so much bloodshed. And unfortunately that is still continuing. The Kiev assault on this sovereign state now looks like to escalate and that can only result in further fatalities here. And these fatalities, this prolonged, sustained, this really ruthless assault on this region, we can describe as being inexplicably irrevocably illegitimate, illegal and immoral, because these people now have had two elections, two chances to state their wishes.
And Kiev continues to kill them rather than to listen to them, and use actions which you can only really describe as being barbaric, as being a hostile attempt by a malevolent force to inflict further suffering on the people of Donetsk. And they really don’t know what more they need to do for their voices to be heard. They’ve done everything and, unfortunately, we now will be back in the situation of military means and further fighting.
And I've visited the Vostok battalion yesterday, they are training to get ready. These are young men and there even are women serving in the battalion, these are local people standing up and taking arms to defend themselves. What they simply want is peace. What they simply want is a chance restore and to rebuild this region, to create a new state rather than at this moment to fight a war against another country, which looks to be stepping up an assault which is backed by the US and which is backed by the EU which have more than turned a blind eye, but deliberately stifled and silenced the voice of people here at every single juncture.
And at the same time, the wonder of being here is in the people. The people of these regions, they are working people. And this is a mining region. This is an industrial region. And working people – they are strong people, the resilient people, but also warm and really enriching people. And they are the people who cast their votes on Sunday, and we are now unfortunately seeing them under a further attack by somebody that we can really think of and we can really define in terms of a brutal Kiev Government, launching further assaults rather than doing what these people pledged and pleaded for them to do, which is simply to listen to their voices here.
So, the mood, as I say, on Sunday was positive, but now the people of Donetsk have relapsed again into the state of further fatalities. And we'd be waiting and we’d be looking on to see what the Kiev’s actions are going to be. There were indications from both the Donetsk and Lugansk republic that they were open to dialog and Kiev decided not to go down the dialog, and they decide to escalate its military assault on this region. So, we haven't been seeing the hostilities till Sunday, but we are now back in a situation of war again here. So, the future for today seems unfortunate and will be defined by military actions, as opposed to by peaceful voting, the protocol and the procedure which took place”.