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Sparks fly in Ukraine as Russia prepares for parliamentary election

An attack on the Russian embassy in Kiev reveals the widespread tension in the country over Sunday’s vote

Kim Sengupta
Kiev
Saturday 17 September 2016 21:48 BST
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Video footage from the attack on the Russian embassy
Video footage from the attack on the Russian embassy (Reuters)

The attack on the Russian embassy in Kiev in the early hours of Saturday morning took place as preparations were under way to open a polling station in the Ukrainian capital for Russia’s imminent parliamentary elections.

The Kremlin accused the government of Petro Poroshenko of deliberately neglecting to protect the building from the young men who threw fireworks while waving a banner threatening “It will be Grad ( multiple rocket launchers) tomorrow”. The Ukrainians dismissed the violence as a “small incident which does not require comment”.

Small or not, what happened illustrates the tension in Ukraine over the voting which takes place on Sunday. The real and highly contentious issue is not a polling station for Russian nationals in Kiev but the fact that Crimea, annexed by Vladimir Putin two years ago, will take part in the election and send deputies to the duma in Moscow.

In Ukraine this is regarded as a big step to absorb Crimea into the Russian Federation in flagrant violation of international law. President Poroshenko, who has charged that Crimea has “been turned into a concentration camp of the best Soviet standards” warned that Crimean residents who take part in the election will face sanctions.

“We must agree that the people who will be proclaimed so-called winners in the illegal state duma elections should take a worthy place on the sanctions list,” he said. “It is an honorary ticket to the sanctions club.”

US President Barack Obama’s administration also stressed that extending the elections to Crimea was illegal. “The United States does not recognise the legitimacy and will not recognise the outcome of the elections planned for Russian-occupied Crimea,” said State Department spokesperson John Kirby. “Our position on Crimea is clear: the peninsula remains an integral part of Ukraine. Crimea-related sanctions against Russia will remain until Russia returns control of Crimea to Ukraine.”

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The US was also concerned, he added, “about the humanitarian situation in Crimea, including the status of the ethnic Tatar community and widespread reports of missing persons and human rights abuses.”

Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to President Vladimir Putin stated that “outside demands” to halt the Crimea polls will be ignored. “Russia has no intention to enter into any discussions with foreign nations concerning the election process on its own territory,” he declared.

The Ukrainian government, he continued, should instead fulfill its obligations under international diplomatic protocols to protect embassies. “They are obliged to do so in compliance with the Vienna Convention,” he said.

Maria Zakharova, foreign ministry spokesperson in Moscow said that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is monitoring the ceasefire in Ukraine has guaranteed that Russian citizens will be able to exercise their right to vote. “The ballot stations on Ukrainian territory will be opened in the Russian embassy and in our consulate-generals. Kiev should not be allowed to stop them,” she said.

But Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Voldoymyr Groysman, held it was not the job of his government to “guard the electoral process of the Russian Federation”. The embassy attack was “just hooliganism. The law enforcement system will perform its functions in a normal mode”.

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