Ukraine Liveblog Day 84: After the Referendum, What Happens Next?

May 12, 2014

Yesterday armed Russian-backed separatists oversaw a referendum vote on the autonomy of the regions of eastern Ukraine. Despite the fact that the vote was deeply flawed and did not meet any international standards, the official results say that 96% of voters stood for autonomy.

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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An interactive map of the situation:

View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map

For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

Below we will be making regular updates. Be sure to check back often and hit refresh.

Despite RT’s Claims, Slavyansk Is Quiet. But It Wasn’t Earlier

C.J. Chivers in Slavyansk is checking in, and he is not seeing any evidence of a Ukrainian “storm” despite sensational claims by the Russian media.
But there were plenty of things going on earlier in Slavyansk that are catching Chivers’ attention:
A few videos reportedly showing mortar attacks today in Slavyansk.

Last night – note the gunfire after the explosions start:

Ukrainian Forces Storming Slavyansk?
About an hour ago this report went out:
Now RT is carrying the report:

The link goes to RT’s liveblog for the day which is titled “Kiev intensifies military op in Eastern Ukraine,” but so far they have no information about new battles in Slavyansk.

Note that in our last update we carried another unverified story that the separatists are actually fighting against each other near the town.

We’ll keep monitoring to see if any of these reports are true.

Separatists Reportedly Fighting Each Other Outside Slavyansk

Below is an article published by “Information Resistance,” the website run by former Ukrainian military officer Dmitry Tymchuk. It was published at 13:57 local time, and has been translated by The Interpreter. “Terrorists” is the word that Tymchuk and others use to describe the Russian-backed separatist gunmen.

According to operations information from Information Resistance, there was a battle between groups of terrorists outside the village of Karpovka near Slavyansk.

For 20 minutes, two groups of terrorists numbering a total of several dozen people “had it out” with the help of automatic weapons. On the side of one of the groups, a 7.62-mm PK automatic rifle was deployed.

The Ukrainian forces did not take part in the shoot-out.

There is no news of any causalties at the present time.

We have not independently corroborated the report.

Ukrainian Radio Station Shut Down By Gunmen in Donetsk

RFE/RL reports:

RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service reports that one of its affiliate radio stations in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk has been taken off the air by gunmen.

A “Radio Era-FM” representative told RFE/RL that armed men switched off the station’s signal before midday local time today. The RFE/RL correspondent in Donetsk reports that the frequency is now being used to broadcast the programs of the “Republic” radio station, which is apparently backed by pro-Russian separatists.

Coordinated Messaging?

To most readers, our last update might seem obvious — the Russian-backed separatists want the same thing as the Russian government, Kremlin control of eastern Ukraine. What is interesting, however, is that there are subtle and not-so-subtle signs that the Russian government and the separatists have coordinated the talking points with Russia.

For instance, note the common use of terminology:

If the the “will of the people” is synonymous with the will of the separatist leaders, as we just noted in the previous updates those leaders say they do not trust Kiev and need protection from the West.
The separatist leaders across the country are also on the same page.

The separatist leaders are also stressing that the results of the referendum, which claim are legitimate, are based in history:

And perhaps they know where history is leading as well:
The Separatists And Russia Are On the Same Page

Russia has recognized the results of the Ukrainian referendum, but is feigning that it would like to see these regions become independent. RFE/RL reports:

The Russian government says Ukrainian officials in Kyiv should hold talks with pro-Russian separatists on the results of widely disputed self-rule referendums in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin said on May 12 that it respects the “expression of the people’s will” in the referendums held in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions the previous day.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that, without including the separatists in talks to resolve the Ukraine crisis, “nothing will be achieved.”

But the separatists have made known that they don’t want independence, they want to be part of the Russian Federation. RT reports:

Donetsk People’s Republic has proclaimed itself a sovereign state and has asked Moscow to consider its accession with Russia, the Republic’s council said.

“We, the people of Donetsk, based on results of the May 11 referendum and the declaration of sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic, declare that from now on DPR is now a sovereign state,” Republic Co-Chairman Denis Pushilin said…

“Counting the ballots proved to be surprisingly easy – the number of people who said ‘no’ was relatively small and there appeared to be only a tiny proportion of spoiled ballots, so we managed to carry out counting quite fast. The figures are as follows: 89.07 percent voted ‘for’, 10.19 percent voted ‘against’ and 0.74 percent of ballots were rendered ineligible,” [the head of the Central Election Commission of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’, Roman Lyagin] told journalists.

Even before this vote, though, the separatists made their desires known.

And as for how legitimate, or surprising, the ‘official’ referendum results are…
EU Sanctions 13 Individuals and Two Crimean Firms

Not only has the European Union sanctioned 13 more individuals, but for the first time it has sanctioned two companies. AFP reports:

No details were immediately available, but sources said the targets agreed by EU foreign ministers included two Crimean firms expropriated following the much-condemned annexation of the peninsula by Russia in March.

“It is not really enough,” Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linkus Linkevicius told AFP. “I believe further sanctions will be needed (including) the inner circle of advisers” to President Vladimir Putin.

“What we are facing is a Russia-sponsored insurgency,” he added.

The EU so far has targeted Russians and Ukrainians blamed for undermining the country’s integrity, stopping short of agreeing wider economic sanctions on banks or the energy sector that would also hurt many in Europe itself.

Independent Russian Journalist Kidnapped In Eastern Ukraine

Novaya Gazeta is an independent publication that has seen several of its journalists assassinated in recent years. Now there are reports that one of their journalists was kidnapped in eastern Ukraine. The Moscow Times reports:

Correspondent Pavel Kanygin was presumably captured overnight in the eastern city of Artemivsk by unknown assailants and taken to Slovyansk, Ekho Moskvy reported Monday.

Correspondent for Ekho Moskvy, Ilya Azar, said Monday on his Twitter account he had received a text message from Kanygin saying: “I have been kidnapped, call Moscow.”

A $1000 ransom fee has reportedly been paid to facilitate Kanygin’s release, but the journalist remains out of contact, Azar said.

Separatists Ask Russia To Annex Eastern Ukraine
Most experts would agree that this is the reason why the separatists worked to hold the referendum in the first place.
Russians Love Their Kremlin-Operated TV News

The Interpreter is now more than a year old, and much of that time has been spent exploring the Russian media landscape and the way the Putin administration has shut down dissenting voices while amplifying the Kremlin’s propaganda outlets — to devastating effect. We’ve also explored how Kremlin control of the media has become significantly more totalitarian since the Crimean annexation, and how that is playing a significant role on the ground in Ukraine.

That makes this new poll of the Russian populace even more disturbing:

The more the Kremlin controls the media landscape, the more the opinions of the Russian populace echo the opinions of the Putin government. And that government is pushing a narrative that the world is in a ‘New Cold War.’ 

The good news is that public opinion may be moving slower than the Kremlin would like. That, however, only presents a narrow (and closing) opportunity to combat the worldview being propagated by Moscow TV.

Unbelievable Election Results Clash With Pre-Referendum Polling

The official referendum results are eyebrow-raising to say the least. Voice of Russia reports:

The Central Elections Committee of the referendum regarding the status of the Lugansk region is finalizing the count of votes. “Judging by tentative data, 95.98 percent have supported federalization of the Lugansk region,” committee deputy chairman Malykhyn told Interfax on Monday. “Votes have almost been counted in northern areas of the Lugansk region where the Ukrainian National Guard blocked polling stations with armored personnel carriers,” he continued.

“We will see precise voting data by noon,” the deputy chairman stressed.

In his words, the referendum turnout stood at 70 percent in the city of Lugansk and 81 percent across the region.

Keep in mind that the vast majority in eastern Ukraine have told pollsters that they want to remain part of Ukraine, don’t want greater autonomy, and reject Russian interference in the region. Haaretz reports:

Again, in the Pew survey, 70 percent of respondents in eastern Ukraine expressed a desire to remain in a united Ukraine. This includes 58 percent of Russian speakers. Eighteen percent of the people in this region say they should be allowed to secede, with only 27 percent of the Russian speakers supporting such a move.

Only 30 percent of respondents say relations with Russia are more important than those with the European Union. Thirty-five percent say relations with Russia and the European Union are equally important.

Even among Russian speakers, only 42 percent say relations with Russia are more important. Forty-one percent of Russian speakers believe that Russia has a positive influence in Ukraine, 44 percent negative.

That’s just the latest poll. There were two other polls that show similar results.

A Deeply Problematic Vote – A Brief Summary

Let’s very briefly take a look at just a small tiny fraction of the problems with yesterday’s referendum in Eastern Ukraine:

1) Kids voted, lots of people voted more than once, ballots weren’t certified, and armed gunmen observed the people who were putting the unfolded ballots into clear cases. See this entry from yesterday’s liveblog for more information on those problems, plus a whole lot more that we didn’t just summarize.

2) You could reportedly vote for other people, like your neighbor or your wife. 

3) A Russian journalist was allowed to vote, though of course he didn’t, because Russians never ” interfere in the affairs of another state.”

4) Journalists were reportedly harassed, detained, and were often discouraged from observing the vote. Of course, some of the journalists said they observed people tearing up “no” ballots, and reporting that kind of news is generally frowned upon by the Russian-backed separatists.

5) While armed men were overseeing the referendum vote to make sure they were not disrupted, a different set of armed men (who dress suspiciously similar to the first set) briefly disrupted some of the voting.  

6) The police chief in Mariupol was kidnapped, and reportedly hanged, though there are now conflicting reports:

According to another report, the police chief has been freed.

Besides these pretty major problems, no one but Russia recognizes the results, and journalists widely report that away from the polling places those residents who did not recognize the legitimacy of this vote did not take place.

But as Russia now recognizes the results of this referendum, and Russia has proven that neither truth nor the will of the international community factor into its decision making in Ukraine, does the actual result of this referendum even matter?