Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced Monday that it will “respect the will” of separatist voters in eastern Ukraine who elected leaders for their proclaimed independent republics in defiance of international warnings that their actions were illegal.
Moscow’s swift show of support for the separatists it is accused of arming and instigating drew new warnings from Germany and other European Union states that further sanctions may be imposed on Russia if the 7-month-old war with Ukrainian government forces intensifies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed off on a Sept. 5 cease-fire deal with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and representatives of the breakaway regions. Putin and other Russian officials portrayed Sunday’s vote for prime minis
oned in the cease-fire agreement signed in Minsk, Belarus, and brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
But the Minsk accord called for early local elections in conformance with Ukrainian law, and the Kiev government, the European Union, the OSCE, the United States and the United Nations all deemed the separatist votes illegal and illegitimate as they sought to establish the regions’ independence of Ukraine.
“We respect the will … of the residents of [Ukraine’s] southeast. The elected representatives have got the mandate for the practical efforts aimed at the restoration of normal life in the regions,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Russian government called for “a stable dialogue” between the Ukrainian government and the new leaders of the separatist-occupied eastern regions and said Moscow is “ready to constructively promote the Ukrainian crisis settlement together with our international partners,” the TASS news agency reported.
In Berlin, the German government swiftly confirmed that it “does not recognize these illegitimate elections,” said Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had called Putin on Friday to urge him to dissuade the separatists from undertaking the widely condemned vote.
“If the situation worsens, it may be necessary to consider intensifying the sanctions,” Seibert told reporters.