KIEV/DONETSK: Ukraine’s interim government promised a clean presidential election yesterday that would anchor the former Soviet state in the Western camp and show the world it would not be intimidated by Russia after weeks of violence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday he would respect the choice of the Ukrainian people and would work with the new authorities. Moscow wanted stability, he said.
In the eastern region where at least 20 people have been killed in the past few days, pro-Moscow separatists said yesterday they did not recognise a vote organised by authorities in Kiev they say took power in a Western-backed coup and officials said many electoral districts would be out of action.
Electoral officials in the east were setting up polling stations but fearful of violence which may keep people at home.
That could dent what the government hopes will be a massive nationwide turnout to give a mandate for closer ties with the EU and force Moscow to deal with a Kiev leadership that took power three months ago when the elected president fled to Russia.
“By all means, we will respect the choice of the Ukrainian people and will be working with authorities formed on the basis of this election,” Putin told foreign journalists during an international economic forum in St Petersburg.
Polls show almost certain victory, possibly outright in the first round, for confectionery magnate Petro Poroshenko, a former government minister who backed the pro-Western Maidan protests that toppled President Viktor Yanukovich in February.
Former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, also a supporter of closer ties to the EU, is a distant second but is the favourite to contest a runoff if Poroshenko — who is 48 and widely known as the “chocolate king” — fails to pass 50 percent today.
Western-backed Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told Ukrainians they had a responsibility to vote and assured those in the east whose ability to vote was being hampered by “the war against Ukraine” that they would soon be free of “bandits”.
“Tomorrow we will demonstrate to the whole world, but above all to ourselves, that we cannot be intimidated,” Yatseniuk said in a televised statement.
He avoided mention of any candidate — campaigning is banned until voting ends. But he said he was sure the winner would make a priority of signing up to a closer alliance with the European Union — a move which Yanukovich rejected in November, triggering months of protests in Kiev that ended when he fled the country.
Keeping up a war of words with Moscow against a background of Russian and NATO buildups around Ukraine’s borders, the Ukrainian foreign ministry issued a statement on Saturday saying border guards had seized armed men in several vehicles trying to cross the frontier from Russia illegally overnight.
“The penetration onto Ukrainian territory of armed terrorist groups, organised by the Russian authorities, is nothing other than the latest act of aggression against our state and a cynical breach by Russia of the norms and principles of international law,” the ministry said.