The White House said Monday it rejects the results of balloting in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists declared independence for the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions a day after holding “self rule” elections to break away from the government in Kiev.
“We do not recognize the results,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney, calling the elections “illegal.”
Mr. Carney also said the Obama administration is “disappointed” that Moscow did not use its influence to forestall Sunday’s balloting. He said the U.S. and the rest of the international community are focused on supporting presidential elections in Ukraine on May 25.
Russia called on Ukrainian officials Monday to begin talks with the pro-Russian eastern region after separatist leaders there claimed overwhelming victories in the so-called “self-rule” referendums — one even declaring the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic a “sovereign state.”
Organizers say about 90 percent of those who cast ballots Sunday in Donetsk and the neighboring Luhansk region backed sovereignty for the sprawling areas that form Ukraine’s industrial heartland.
Denis Pushilin, separatist leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, declared the region a “sovereign state” while speaking to reporters Monday.
“We also want to join the Russian Federation,” Mr. Pushilin added.
The Kremlin urged Ukraine’s interim government in Kiev to hold talks with the separatists but had no immediate response Monday to the annexation request. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the vote’s results showed that residents of the two regions “are entitled to have their own say on the vital issues they face.”
Ukraine’s government and the West have rejected the insurgent vote as a sham, and accused Moscow of fomenting weeks of unrest in eastern Ukraine in a possible attempt to grab more land after annexing Crimea in March. Russia has denied the accusations.
Organizers said 89 percent of those who voted Sunday in Donetsk and about 96 percent of those who turned out in Luhansk voted for sovereignty. The sprawling areas along Russia’s border form Ukraine’s industrial heartland: Donetsk has about 4.4 million people, and Luhansk 2.2 million.
The insurgents said the turnout topped 70 percent but with no international monitors it was impossible to confirm such claims.
The interim government in Kiev 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 vote.
Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, speaking to reporters in Brussels, did not repeat his government’s denunciation of the referendum or comment specifically on the declarations of independence. But he said the government would be willing to discuss decentralization and constitutional reforms.
“We would like to launch the broad national dialogue with the east, center, the west, and all of Ukraine,” he said.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.