EU, OSCE seek to defuse Ukraine crisis after pro-Russia vote

EU, OSCE seek to defuse Ukraine crisis after pro-Russia vote

KIEV - Agence France-Presse
EU, OSCE seek to defuse Ukraine crisis after pro-Russia vote

A handout picture released by the Ukrainian prime minister's press service shows European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (L) shaking hands withs acting Ukraine?s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk following their press conference in Kiev on May 12. AFP PHoto

The EU was intensifying diplomatic efforts May 13 to get Ukraine's leadership and pro-Moscow rebels to the negotiating table, as the OSCE said Moscow supports a de-escalation roadmap for the crisis.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier kicks things off with an early morning visit to Kiev to support a "national dialogue" between Ukraine and the pro-Russian regions in the east, said his spokesman in Berlin. He will also travel to pro-Russian east Ukraine.

Later in the day the European Commission will host Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Brussels to offer support and discuss the next move in attempts to defuse a crisis which has reached Cold War proportions.

The fresh diplomatic flurry comes after rebels in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region appealed on May 13 to join Russia after what they claimed were resounding victories in independence referendums.

Both European and U.S. officials denounced the votes, with EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy calling them "illegal, illegitimate and not credible" on a visit to Kiev May 12.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the voting "was an attempt to create further division and disorder" in Ukraine.

However Russia said it "respects" the result of the weekend votes on self-rule, which were denounced by authorities in Kiev as a "criminal farce."

But Moscow left the door open to a negotiated solution, calling for talks between Kiev and the rebels in the industrial regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, home to seven million of Ukraine's 46 million people.

Vladimir Putin is "supportive" of the OSCE's de-escalation roadmap for Ukraine, the European security body said Monday after a phone call between its chairman and the Russian president.

This roadmap, drawn up last week, focuses on "restraint from violence, disarmament, national dialogue, and elections," the OSCE said.

The Vienna-based OSCE, which began life as a forum for East-West dialogue in the Cold War and is becoming an important player in the Ukraine crisis, aims to have around 1,000 observers on the ground for the scheduled Ukraine presidential election on May 25.

The Kremlin's more moderate tone allayed fears Moscow might move to quickly annex the eastern territories, as it did earlier this year after a similar vote in Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

Rebel officials in Donetsk had earlier said 89 percent of voters backed breaking away from Ukraine in Sunday's referendum, with a turnout of 75 percent. Separatists in Lugansk said 94 percent had backed independence.

Rebel must join talks: Lavrov

Moscow endorsed the separatist votes, with Putin's office saying in a statement: "Moscow respects the expression of the people's will in Donetsk and Lugansk." The Kremlin called for "the results to be implemented in a civilised manner, without any repeat of violence, through dialogue between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk."

Ukraine's interim President Oleksandr Turchynov said Kiev was willing to "continue dialogue with those in the east of Ukraine who have no blood on their hands" but dismissed the votes.

"The farce that terrorist separatists call a referendum is nothing more than propaganda," he said.

On the streets of Donetsk meanwhile, confusion reigned. "For me, I am still in Ukraine but who knows where we will be tomorrow - it is a mad house," pensioner Anna told AFP in Donetsk.

The crisis has raised fears of a violent breakup of Ukraine and the possibility of a civil war on Europe's eastern edge. An agreement between Moscow, Kiev, Washington and the EU in Geneva last month did little to ease tensions and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said May 12 there was no point in further discussions without the separatists.

"Holding another four-way meeting makes little sense," Lavrov said. "We do not want to repeat what has already taken place... but to move on to talks between Kiev and its opponents in the eastern regions of Ukraine."

Kiev and Western leaders have accused Moscow of backing the rebels and on May 12 EU foreign ministers announced new sanctions against Russians and Crimeans involved in the crisis.

A further 13 people and two companies were listed as subject to a European Union asset freeze and visa ban, EU diplomats said. 

Van Rompuy warned the EU was ready to take "additional, far-reaching" steps "in a broad range of areas" if Russia failed to help resolve the conflict.

Ukrainian officials have said 49 people have died in the Donetsk region since the start of the unrest, and deadly clashes and an inferno in Odessa killed at least 42 people earlier this month.