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Autumn of Discontent
Russia Cheers Elections in Eastern Ukraine

It’s almost getting a little repetitive: Russia and the West come to some agreement over Ukraine that Western leaders hail as a breakthrough and that Russians portray as a concession. Days later, the Russians are back to stirring the pot while the West stands back, aghast that Russia may in fact not be interested in having Ukraine succeed.

Case in point: last Friday, Russia and Ukraine signed a gas deal for the coming winter, with Russia grudgingly making some concessions on final prices in exchange for some unspecified means by which Europeans would guarantee Ukraine’s ability to pay. But then over the weekend, Russia recognized the separatist elections which took place in Donetsk and Lugansk. Cue the European chorus of condemnation:

[…] a spokesperson for Angela Merkel, German chancellor, insisted Sunday’s elections were “illegitimate” and said Russia’s decision to recognise the polls would make efforts to resolve the crisis in Ukraine more difficult.

Steffen Seibert said it was “incomprehensible that there are official Russian voices that are respecting or recognising these so-called elections.”

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s new foreign policy chief, also criticised “illegal and illegitimate” polls that were “a new obstacle on the path towards peace in Ukraine”.

Turnout for the earlier parliamentary elections in Lugansk and Donetsk were well below the national average of 52 percent—at 32.87 percent and 32.4 percent respectively. We don’t know what the turnout for the separatist elections was because no reliable monitors were in place to witness them, but anecdotal evidence tells us that at least some people showed up at the polls. The symbolism of Russia supporting these, therefore, should be lost on no one.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, had also condemned the elections in a statement on Friday. He said that they “undermine efforts towards a resolution of the conflict. Statements by Russian officials that Russia would recognise these so-called ‘elections’ show that Russia continues its efforts to destabilise Ukraine.”

Yes, that much is clear.

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