So who is sabotaging Ukraine’s presidential elections?
Dialogue, we are accustomed to assume, is always better than none. Not, however, when roundtable crisis talks serve to defer the imposition of real EU sanctions against Russia which Germany in particular is obstructing. Nor when international press headlines are swift to suggest that it is Kyiv who stymied such talks by “deliberately declining to invite the separatists”.
Kyiv’s leaders refused to invite the pro-Russian militants unless they gave up their weapons. Whatever the motives of the OSCE and Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in pushing for the ‘peace talks’, Kyiv’s refusal primarily helped Russia, and quite unnecessarily. How many of the foreign representatives present would have agreed to sit at the table with men in masks and armed Kalashnikovs?
What government in the world would have agreed to engage in negotiations at the same time that masked gunmen were bursting into a secondary school in Luhansk, handcuffing and leading away the school head in full view of her students and other members of staff? Alexandra Shevchenko had angered the militants by refusing to allow her school to be used for last Sunday’s pseudo-referendum. The pro-Russian militants in Slovyansk have tortured and murdered at least three hostages and are holding a large number of others. So too are the militants in Luhansk who on May 10 seized a young civic activist, Mykhailo Logvinenko while he was pasting up posters against the May 11 pseudo-referendum. He can be seen here chained, publicly beaten and humiliated. The video was taken by his tormenters. Civic activists in Luhansk report seeing militants use their arms to ‘convince’ a local retailer to hand over crates of vodka.
After organizing ‘referendums’ in which people could cast multiple votes without ID, and then claiming near 100% support for ‘independence’, the militants immediately asked for their ‘republics’ to become part of the Russian Federation and said that there would be no presidential elections.
On Wednesday pro-Russian militants seized the building of the district election committee No. 111 in Antratsyt [Luhansk oblast]. They have threatened committee members and their families with reprisals if they continue to work towards the May 25 presidential elections. Similar threats have been made against members of the committee in Krasny Luch.
So what is there to talk about?
After illegally annexing the Crimea, Russia has armed and supported pro-Russian ‘separatists’ whose first act after an allegedly overwhelming vote for independence was to ask to join Russia. On Wednesday the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ began mellowing those calls after public – and perhaps private – statements from Moscow.
One can quibble over what constitutes proof, yet EU countries know that Russia is behind the trouble in eastern and southern Ukraine, and that it is seeking to disrupt the coming elections. The heavily armed militants’ main role at the moment appears to be preventing those elections from taking place.
By imitating dialogue and putting off any sanctions worth the name, the EU is itself dealing Ukraine’s faltering democracy a grave blow and fuelling a crisis that could engulf other countries in the region.