As Ukrainian separatists cheer referendum, EU punishes Russia with more sanctions
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GWEN IFILL: Late today, the European Union imposed sanctions on senior Russian officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first deputy chief of staff and the commander of the country’s paratroopers. The move is part of the E.U.’s efforts to punish Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.
In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman said today the U.S. will not recognize Sunday’s secession referendum in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. She called it illegitimate.
JEN PSAKI, State Department Spokeswoman: It was illegal under Ukrainian law and an attempt to create further division and disorder in the country. Its methodology was also highly suspect, with reports of carousel voting, pre-marked ballots, children voting, voting for people who were absent, and even voting in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
GWEN IFILL: Separatists in Donetsk, however, declared they are ready to join neighboring Russia.
We have a report from Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.
ALEX THOMSON, ITN: Barricaded into the regional council building, bolstered by their referendum, for these people, today is day one of the world’s newest capital of the People’s Republic of Donetsk.
And 10 floors up, separatist chairman Denis Pushilin says it’s war.
Your own key officials say that this area is now at war with Kiev. Do you agree with that?
DENIS PUSHILIN, Donetsk People’s Republic (through interpreter): Every day, in fact, people are dying in our territory at the hands of those sent by the illegal Kiev junta. This is civil war in its purest form.
ALEX THOMSON: Inside, the uncompromising message, we are in a civil war, outside, the martial music. They now feel they have got a large mandate from their independence referendum. So, the simple question is, do they push it forward politically or with fighting?
Hours later, he announced he’d asked Russia to absorb the People’s Republic just one day after the referendum.
DENIS PUSHILIN (through interpreter): Based on the will of the people of Donetsk People’s Republic, and in order to restore an historic injustice, we ask the Russian Federation to consider the absorption of the Donetsk People’s Republic into the Russian Federation.
ALEX THOMSON: Silence so far from Vladimir Putin, but the Kremlin is welcoming the referendum.
SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through interpreter): We respect the expression of the will of the population in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
ALEX THOMSON: Russia is calling again for talks, but on the ground it is not happening, instead, the funerals of those from both sides killed in recent days, flowers laid where they died, and Kiev’s forces told, you’re illegal, get out of our country in 48 hours.
In Luhansk, separatist militias outside, referendum ballots inside, and guns here too. Furious, Kiev says only a third of people ever voted in this referendum anyway.
OLEKSANDR TURCHYNOV, Acting President, Ukraine (through interpreter): That farce the separatists call a referendum is nothing more than propaganda hiding behind those awful crimes, killing, torture and kidnapping they are carrying out.
ALEX THOMSON: Separatists counter that, saying the turnout was in fact around 80 of voters, with almost 78 of them saying yes to breaking away from Kiev.