Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published May 9, 2014 at 11:04 AM | Page modified May 9, 2014 at 11:35 AM

  • Share:
           
  • Comments (0)
  • Print

Eastern Ukraine's vote: a key moment

People in two regions of restive eastern Ukraine -- Donetsk and Luhansk -- will vote on Sunday on declaring sovereignty. The plebiscites, hastily arranged by pro-Russia insurgents who have seized government buildings over the past month, are denounced both by the central government in Kiev and the West, and it is unclear whether they will be recognized by Moscow in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for the vote to be postponed. Issues of legitimacy aside, the vote is sure to add to tensions in an area already gripped by rebellion and sporadic clashes between militants and Ukrainian forces.


Associated Press

Interactive: Turmoil in Ukraine

Click to learn more about developments in Ukraine.

advertising

MOSCOW —

People in two regions of restive eastern Ukraine -- Donetsk and Luhansk -- will vote on Sunday on declaring sovereignty. The plebiscites, hastily arranged by pro-Russia insurgents who have seized government buildings over the past month, are denounced both by the central government in Kiev and the West, and it is unclear whether they will be recognized by Moscow in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for the vote to be postponed. Issues of legitimacy aside, the vote is sure to add to tensions in an area already gripped by rebellion and sporadic clashes between militants and Ukrainian forces.

___

HOW IT STARTED

After Viktor Yanukovych, the Russia-friendly Ukrainian president, was toppled in February following months of protests in the capital, many people in eastern and southern Ukraine strongly resented the authorities who took over. The majority in that sprawling swath of the country speak Russian as their mother tongue and many denounced the new government as nationalists -- and even fascists -- who would suppress the Russian-speakers. The Black Sea peninsula of Crimea held a referendum on secession less than a month after Yanukovych's ouster, and Russia annexed Crimea days later. In April, insurgents calling themselves the Donetsk People's Republic began seizing police stations and government buildings in that region, setting up checkpoints and claiming control of several cities.

___

THE BALLOT ISSUE

The ballot asks if voters approve establishment of sovereign and independent "people's republics." However, the ultimate goal is not clear. Organizers in Donetsk say that, in the event of a "yes" vote, they will decide later if they want to be independent, seek to become part of Russia, or agree to stay in Ukraine but with significantly greater autonomy.

___

RUSSIA'S INVOLVEMENT

Kiev and the West claim that Russia is fomenting or even directing the unrest in the east, either with the goal of finding a pretext for invading and seizing the region, or of destabilizing Ukraine in order to force it to agree to abandon aspirations to join NATO and the European Union. Russia denies that it has agents on the ground in the east. However, it clearly has strong influence, as witnessed by its success in obtaining the release of OSCE military observers who were taken hostage by militants in the city of Slovyansk, and its adamant criticism of Ukraine's acting government as a junta reinforces the insurgents' resistance.

Putin's call on Wednesday for the referendum to be postponed may have been intended to portray Russia as seeking de-escalation of the crisis. The insurgents' rejection of the call the next day promotes the view that they are not pawns of Moscow, but a genuine people's movement rising up against a purported threat of genocide.

___

REFERENDUM PROSPECTS

Recent poll data show a strong majority in the east favor remaining part of Ukraine, but that doesn't necessarily prefigure a "no" vote on a "people's republic." Many who were on the fence may have been swayed by last week's grisly confrontation in Odessa, where dozens of pro-Russians died when the building where they took shelter was firebombed by government backers. Although Odessa is far away from the referendum regions, the violence reinforced the view of the government side as brutal and vengeful. In any case, sovereignty opponents may choose to sit out the vote because of the intimidating atmosphere. And without international oversight, the vote count's accuracy will be highly debatable.

___

WHAT'S NEXT?

If the vote is "yes" and the insurgents push for incorporation into Russia, Moscow will face a dilemma. U.S. and EU sanctions already appear to be affecting the economy. Russia would be leery of inducing more such punishment by annexing the regions. It would also be logistically more challenging: Crimea housed a large Russian military contingent at the Black Sea Fleet base and reinforcements were brought in quickly before Ukraine could respond. But Ukrainian forces are already fighting in the east.

However, Putin's assertion of Russia's alleged right to reclaim territories that it lost through historical "injustices," which he cited in justifying the annexation of Crimea, could end up making Russia feel obliged to add Luhansk and Donetsk to its territory.



Want unlimited access to seattletimes.com? Subscribe now!

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

Career Center Blog

Career Center Blog

How to tame an unruly resume


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►