As Ukraine buckles down for historic elections are a critical time in the nation’s history, there are fears that this could increase tensions between Russia and the West. The presidential and parliamentary elections will take place tomorrow in eastern Ukraine, in the territories held by pro-Russian rebels. Western governments and the United Nations have declared that these elections are in violation of an existing cease-fire agreement, and have already warned that official Russian recognition of the election results would only serve to deepen the divide between Russia and the West, and allow the already difficult situation in Ukraine to deteriorate even further. Ukraine and the West had hoped that local elections could be held under Ukrainian laws. The White House declared that these elections go against the Ukrainian constitution, and US Secretary of State argued that the election are a “clear violation” of the Minsk cease-fire agreement. Still, Russia has welcomed the elections, even while much the rest of the world has largely condemned them.
These elections will be held in the pro-separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. While Kiev and the West condemn these elections and reject their results before they even come in, Moscow is welcoming them and seems intent on using them in an attempt to legitimize the actions and intentions of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. Some preparations for tomorrow’s elections were interrupted by fighting by the airport near Donetsk, an area that has seen fighting for weeks now.
There are concerns that Russia could use the election results to increase Russia’s political influence locally, and yesterday, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan warned Russia against using the election results as justification for any military maneuvers in Ukraine. The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, argued that the Minsk cease-fire agreement had essentially set local elections in rebel-controlled areas for some time between Oct. 19 and Nov. 3, even while the West maintains that election under Ukrainian law were only to be held in December. But Russian President Vladimir Putin has countered that the elections were “in co-ordination with, not in line with” existing Ukrainian laws.
These Ukrainian elections for territories in the east of the country, which are held by rebel forces, could increase already heightened tensions between the West and Russia. The elections tomorrow come less than a week after a nationwide election tilted the political balance of power in Ukraine overall towards the West, and away from Russian influence. The governments in Donetsk and Luhansk argue that these elections follow logically from the May referendums that lent considerable support to the idea of independence from Ukraine.
Russian officials, however, maintain that these elections could serve to legitimize pro-independence leaders in rebel-held territories. However, the West believes that the results of these elections will change very little, since the current leaders are the ones that are running and expecting to win. Generally speaking, the opposition candidates are not well known, and thus, not expected to provide any serious challenges. Leaders in the West fear that these elections are a springboard for a more deeply entrenched conflict, as they expect the results to continue the trend of Russia exerting greater influence on local central governments in the region, even if they have failed to gain virtually no other international recognition.
The Ukrainian elections set for tomorrow could very well increase the already existing tensions between the West and Russia. In fact, it has already become a source of increased polarization between the two sides. Now, as the world waits for election day in these pro-rebel held areas of eastern Ukraine, further controversy and divisions are the only results that seem absolutely certain to prevail.
By Charles Bordeau