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Russia Confirms Separatist Elections in Eastern Ukraine with Troops and Tanks

November 3rd 2014

While Russian-led separatists in eastern Ukraine held elections on November 2, the Ukrainian government announced that "intensive" troop movements crossing over from Russia have cast doubt over a possible truce. Russia had backed the controversial balloting despite criticism from the West. The vote in the so-called Donetsk People's Republic and Lugansk People's Republic was condemned by authorities in Kiev and the West. The election was intended to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the pro-Russian authorities already in control of the two main rebel-held cities. The truce that was agreed by authorities in Kiev and the rebels appears seriously in doubt.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko denounced the ballot in eastern Ukraine as a "farce that is being conducted under the threat of tanks and guns," while warning Russia not to recognize the result of the ballot.

No mainstream international election monitors observed the vote. No minimum turnout was set by the election organizers. "These elections are important because they will give legitimacy," said Roman Lyagin, election commission chief of the Donetsk People's Republic, according to AFP.

Before the ballot, rebels shelled government military positions across the conflictive area. According to the United Nations, more than 4,000 people have died since the fighting began seven months ago. On November 2, three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and seven wounded. On the previous day, three soldiers died and seven wounded.
Journalists in Donetsk described seeing a column of approximately 20 trucks, some of which were armed with heavy anti-aircraft weapons, that was headed towards the airport that is still held by the Ukrainian government.

Other large columns of unmarked military trucks and other weaponry were seen on roads in the area controlled by the rebels. The Russia-backed rebels rely on a panoply that anti-aircraft missiles, tanks and heavy artillery. They threaten to push as far as the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. Russian troops Ukraine's southern province of Crimea, which has been declared a part of Russia. Crimea, which had been ceded to Ukraine in the 1950s by Russian leader Nikita Krushchev, was seized with little resistance from the demoralized Ukrainian forces by troops that had been dubbed "little green men", were later confirmed to have been Russian regular troops.

News sites Buzzfeed.com and Mashable.com tweeted that a large military column could be observed. s Max Seddon of Buzzfeed wrote, "31 unmarked Kamazes (military trucks) just drove past towards Donetsk. Anti-aircraft weapons, ammunition boxes, radar systems, a bus of gunmen."  Christopher Miller of Mashable.com tweeted that he saw more than 40 trucks headed toward Donetsk "with anti-aircraft guns, fighters."

The self-declared republics Lugansk and Donetsk went to the polls to select new presidents and parliaments for their respective territories. It is expected that the current rebel chieftains, Alexander Zakharchenko in Donetsk and Igor Plotnitsky in Lugansk, will be confirmed. Zakharchenko replaced a series of Russian citizens at the helm in Donetsk. Plotnitsky is a former Soviet army officer who revels in the communist past.

The disputed elections have become a new source of disagreement between Russia and Western powers backing Ukraine. Russia continues sending troops or weapons into Ukraine, says it will recognize the results of the elections. Speaking to the state-run TASS news agency, Duma member Mikhail Markelov of the ruling United Russia party said on November 2 that "Kiev is obliged to recognize these elections." The "legitimization of the (separatist) authorities... will lead to a different relationship with Russia, including on economic cooperation and help which Novorossiya needs," he said. Novorossiya means New Russia, the name that the Kremlin has given to the separatist region.

The worst diplomatic row between Russia and the West since the supposed end of the Cold War has only escalated since Ukrainian protesters ousted the former president of Ukraine in February, who then departed to Russia. On October 31, the leaders of Ukraine, Germany and France urged President Vladimir Putin of Russia in a four-way telephone call not to recognize the polls. The White House also said on the same day that the balloting is "illegitimate."

Cutting Edge Contributor Martin Barillas also edits Speroforum.com

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