A man holds a cross and a telephone as he stands near a
barricade erected by pro-Russian activists during a rally
to mark and celebrate the announcement of the results of
the referendum on the status of Donetsk region in Donetsk.
Pro-Moscow rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine have called
for their region to become part of Russia, the day after
staging a referendum on self-rule, but Moscow stopped short of
endorsing their bid for annexation.
Announcing the result of the vote in one of the two provinces
where it was held, a leader of the "People's Republic of
Donetsk", Denis Pushilin, said it was now an independent
state and would appeal to join the Russian Federation.
"The people of Donetsk have always been part of the Russian
world. For us, the history of Russia is our history," he
"Based on the will of the people and on the restoration of a
historic justice, we ask the Russian Federation to consider
the absorption of the Donetsk People's Republic into the
Russian Federation," he told a news conference.
In neighbouring Luhansk, officials said they might now hold a
second referendum on joining Russia, similar to one held in
Crimea, a Ukrainian region Moscow seized and annexed in
Donetsk and Luhansk together are home to 6.5 million people
and produce around a third of Ukraine's industrial output,
creating the biggest new self-proclaimed independent states
in Europe since the break-ups of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia
and the Soviet Union itself more than 20 years ago.
Donetsk separatists said more than 80 percent of voters had
supported independence. Those in Luhansk said more than 96
The government in Kiev and its Western backers say the
exercise was absurd, with no legal basis, insecure polling
stations, old voter lists, ballots that could be easily
reproduced and self-proclaimed election officials openly
promoting secession. They say residents who support a united
Ukraine were most likely to have stayed home out of fear of
rebel gunmen and to avoid lending the vote credibility.
Unlike in Crimea, Moscow has stopped short of recognising the
two regions as independent from Kiev and has said nothing to
suggest it would endorse their absorption into Russia.
President Vladimir Putin even called last week for the
referendum to be postponed.
But Moscow indicated clearly on Monday that it intends to use
the results of the referendums to put pressure on the
government in Kiev to recognise the rebels in the east as a
legitimate side in talks.
"We believe that the results of the referendum should be
brought to life within the framework of dialogue between
Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk," the Russian Foreign Ministry
It accused the Kiev government of a "criminal lack of
readiness for dialogue with their own people".
The Russian stance appears calculated to entrench Moscow's
allies in control of Ukraine's industrial heartland without
taking the sort of overt steps - sending in ground forces or
formally recognising the regions' split from Kiev - that
might invite tough sanctions from the West.
The mayor of Slaviansk, a small city in the Donetsk region
that has become the most heavily fortified rebel redoubt,
said Ukrainian troops were now occupiers, and Russian troops
should be invited to help defend the area.
"They should go," Vyacheslav Ponomaryov said of Ukrainian
forces. "We're going to defend our territory."
As for bringing in Russian forces: "I support this. We need
Russian troops to provide stability and a peaceful life in
the region's future."
The European Union added the names of some individuals and
firms on Monday to a list of those facing asset freezes and
travel bans, measures Moscow has long mocked.
But both Brussels and Washington have so far stopped short of
wider sanctions designed to hurt Russia's economy more
broadly, despite repeated threats.
The United States and European Union both said they would not
recognise the results of the "illegal" referendum.
However, in the latest sign that the West is not ready to
impose more serious economic measures, diplomatic sources
said France would press ahead with a 1.2 billion-euro
contract to sell helicopter carrier ships to Russia because
cancelling it would hurt Paris more than Moscow.
Losing control of Donetsk and Luhansk would be a crippling
blow for Ukraine, a country of around 45 million people the
size of France, facing bankruptcy after half a year of
Donetsk and Luhansk produce more than 15 percent of Ukraine's
GDP, including around a third of its industrial output from
the giant steel smelters and other heavy industry of the
Donbass, one of Europe's most productive coal producing
If they slip out of Kiev's control without being formally
absorbed by Moscow, they would become by far the biggest and
most economically important of the self-proclaimed
independent statelets Russia protects in other parts of the
Since the early 1990s Russian troops have protected breakaway
statelets in a sliver of Moldova and two parts of Georgia,
but all three of those regions combined have barely an eighth
of the population of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The International Monetary Fund, which is arranging a bailout
of Ukraine's finances, has said it would have to renegotiate
if Kiev lost control of the east.
The government in Kiev and Western nations accuse Russia of
stirring up unrest in the east following the overthrow of a
pro-Moscow president in February by protesters demanding
closer links with Europe.
In March, Putin overturned decades of post-Cold War diplomacy
by announcing Russia's right to intervene in Ukraine, seizing
and annexing Crimea and massing tens of thousands of troops
on the frontier. Putin said last week he had withdrawn the
troops from the border area, but Washington and NATO said
this was not true. They also say Russian special forces are
active on the ground, which Moscow denies.
Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turchinov accused
Russia of working to overthrow legitimate state power in
Ukraine. He said the Kremlin was trying to disrupt a
Ukrainian presidential election later this month.
Eastern Ukraine has been plagued by turmoil as Kiev has
staged a largely failed military operation to regain control
of towns held by the separatists. Authorities said 49 people
have been killed in violence in the region of Donetsk since
The rebels have given differing accounts of their precise
plans. However, participating in the Ukrainian presidential
election on May 25 is clearly ruled out.
"As of today, we are now the Republic of Luhansk, which
believes it to be inappropriate and perhaps even stupid to
hold a presidential election," RIA cited a spokesman for
rebels in that region as saying.
Some rebels have publicly supported pressing for annexation
"This land was never Ukraine ... We speak Russian," said
Ponomaryov, mayor in Slaviansk.
Asked about the possibility of holding a second referendum,
on union with Russia, he said: "There has been no decision,
but this referendum showed we are prepared ... We can put on
an election or referendum at short notice at barely any
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said rebels had made
a new attempt overnight to seize a television tower on the
edge of Slaviansk. Eastern regions of Ukraine receive Russian
state television, which has broadcast relentless accounts of
a threat from "fascists" in Kiev. Ukraine has struggled to
keep its own television stations on the air in the region.
"The information war that they are waging against us in the
Donbass is more dangerous than a bullet," he wrote on
But there was hint of compromise in the port of Mariupol,
scene of fierce fighting between Ukrainian forces and rebels
over the last week. Turchinov said police had begun patrols
with a volunteer militia set up by Metinvest, a firm mostly
owned by Ukraine's wealthiest businessman, Rinat