(Reuters) – Ukrainian leader Oleksander Turchinov accusedRussia of working to overthrow legitimate state power in Ukraine on Monday after pro-Russian rebels declared a resounding victory in rebel referendums on self-rule in eastern regions.
Turchinov said the Kremlin was trying to disrupt a presidential election later this month which is taking centre stage in a confrontation pitting Moscow and the separatists against the government in Kiev and its Western backers.
RIA news agency quoted a rebel leader as saying the eastern Luhansk region would boycott the May 25 election. What he called the “Republic of Luhansk” may hold a further referendum on union with Russia, as Ukraine’s Crimea region did under Russian military occupation before its annexation by Moscow in March.
Ukraine’s election is intended to secure democratic continuity and legitimacy after pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich fled the country in February, and Western governments have threatened more sanctions in the vital areas of energy, financial services and engineering if Moscow disrupts the vote.
Moscow said it respected the outcome of Sunday’s referendums, in which separatists claimed 90 percent support in the industrial Donetsk region while RIA, a Russian state news agency, reported 96.2 percent backing in Luhansk region.
The results should be implemented peacefully, Russia said, without saying what further action it might take.
Eastern Ukraine has been plagued by turmoil as Kiev has tried to regain control of the largely Russian-speaking areas, and health authorities said 49 people have been killed in violence in the region of Donetsk since March 13.
The European Union declared the referendums illegal and increased pressure on Russia on Monday by taking a first step towards extending sanctions to companies, as well as people, linked to Crimea’s annexation.
However, revealing cracks in the West’s united front, diplomatic sources said France will press ahead with a 1.2 billion-euro ($1.66 billion) contract to sell helicopter carrier ships to Russia because cancelling the deal would do more damage to Paris than to Moscow.
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