Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he will respect the outcome of the Ukrainian elections tomorrow while violence rages on in the eastern part of Ukraine. While speaking at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Putin stated that Russia wanted peace and order restored in Ukraine saying that Russian will, “treat the choice of the Ukrainian people with respect.”
As many as 500 pro-Russian separatists attacked a military convoy near the Ukrainian city of Rubizhne leaving 20 insurgents and one soldier dead, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. The ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine has made it difficult for many Ukrainians to vote, as 16 out of 32 regional election committees have been blocked by armed insurgents, and separatists leaders in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have called for a boycott of the May 25th elections.
Putin also stated that the Russian government would work with the new Ukrainian leadership to help end the violence and restore order, however he remains hopeful that the newly elected president will call off any and all military action in the violence-stricken region. “We are working with the people who control the government, but after the elections we will, of course, work with the newly elected structures as well,” Putin said at the forum.
Acting Ukrainian president, Olexander Turchynov emphasized the importance of the elections that are to take place on Sunday, stating in a televised address from Kiev that the vote to elect a new leader is a sort of validation to thousands of Ukrainians who have proven that they are capable of making their own choices and defending their country from outside influence. Turchynov stated, “We will never allow anyone to rob us of our freedom and independence, turn our Ukraine into a part of the post-Soviet empire.”
The government in Kiev hopes that the election will help unify the country as the western side looks to Europe and the east remains grounded in their desire for Russian influence. Kiev also acknowledged that voting in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk would be almost impossible due to the regions declaring independence from Ukraine, and where separatists have seized most voting materials from local election committees.
Putin expressed optimism in the Kremlin’s relationship with the United States saying that a resolution to the current situation in Ukraine will help heal diplomatic relations with the U.S., stating, “I am not losing faith that the situation in Ukraine will at some point become normal and we will find the inner strength to normalize relations (with the United States),”
The Russian president also stated that his biggest concern in the conflict was that Ukraine would join NATO, and in effect, the U.S. would deploy anti-missile systems in the country. Putin also signaled that a motivating factor in annexing Crimea from Ukraine was due to fears of NATO’s enlargement.
With 21 candidates all vying for the office of president, Petro Poroshenco, a Ukrainian chocolate manufacturer is the favorite to win Sunday’s election. However, if none of the candidates receive over 50% of the vote, a second election will be held on June 15th.
By Nathaniel Pownell