The U.S. special envoy for Ukraine has said that elections planned by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine are illegitimate and urged Moscow not to endorse them.
“We urge Russia not to have these elections go forward. We think this is completely illegitimate for several reasons,” Kurt Volker told Current Time TV on October 11.
More than 10,300 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists erupted in April 2014.
Cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk agreements — September 2014 and February 2015 accords aimed at resolving the conflict — have failed to hold.
Although Russia denies involvement in the conflict, Moscow has provided military, economic, and political support to the breakaway movements controlling parts of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
The separatists have vowed to hold elections to choose the region’s parliament and a new leader after separatist chief Aleksandr Zakharchenko was assassinated by a bomb blast in a Donetsk city cafe on August 31.
Denis Pushilin, the chairman of the “people’s council” was selected as the acting head until the November 11 vote to select a new leader.
“First, you can’t hold a legitimate election in a territory occupied by foreign forces,” Volker told Current Time, which is run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
“Second, these are not legitimate authorities. These are illegal armed groups and political entities that were created by Russia and they have no place in the Minsk agreements, in the Minsk process. This is a step against the Minsk agreements,” Volker said, adding that, if Russia recognizes the election, it “doesn’t change anything.”
“What the Minsk agreements call for is security, a cease-fire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons, a removal of all illegal armed militias of which these [that want to hold elections] are part. … And then the restoration of the territory to Ukrainian control. That’s what the Minsk agreements call for, that’s what we are supporting.”
Volker said that, although Russia has said it wants Ukraine to take steps in the direction of implementing a special status for the region, Kyiv can’t do that as long as Moscow “occupies the territory.”
He said a peacekeeping force could establish security, create conditions of freedom of movement and peace, and protect the local population.
Ukraine has been pressing for the introduction of United Nations peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine as long as they are placed along the border with Russia to monitor and ensure Russian troops and weapons do not come over the border to aid the separatists.
Russia made a much narrower proposal in September 2017, saying it would support a limited UN peacekeeping mission to protect around 600 observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe who are on the ground in eastern Ukraine.
Volker said the idea of having a peacekeeping force deployed in the region “is very viable” and would facilitate the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
“We have proposed this, Ukraine supports it, the Normandy group [of foreign ministers from Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine] supports it, the European Union, NATO, Canada, and Britain, everyone is in favor of sending in a UN-mandated peacekeeping mission. Only Russia is really blocking this.”
Volker said Moscow’s argument is that a peacekeeping force should be negotiated with the de-facto separatist authorities, but since those authorities are there “only by Russia’s hand, we need to be negotiating with the Russians, that’s how we see it.”