Following an overwhelming vote for “sovereignty”, Ukraine’s Russian-speaking region has declared its independence from Kiev and asked for joining Russia.

Almost 90 per cent of voters in Donetsk region and more than 96 per cent in the neighbouring Luhansk region supported “state sovereignty” in a referendum held on Sunday, organisers announced on Monday. The turnout was 75 per cent in both regions.

“We the people of the Donetsk People’s Republic… declare that henceforth the DPR is a sovereign state,” the DPR provisional government said in a proclamation released on Monday.

“Based on people’s will and in order to restore historical justice, we ask the Russian Federation to consider accepting the Donetsk People’s Republic as part of Russia,” the proclamation said, according to Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

The Luhansk People’s Republic said it would also proclaim its independence and appeal for international recognition.

Kiev condemned the referendum as a sham that would have no legal consequence.

“This propaganda farce, which terrorists call the referendum, will have no legal consequences except for criminal charges for its organisers,” Ukraine’s Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said in a statement on Monday.

By contrast, Russia welcomed the outcome of the referendum and called for dialogue between Kiev and the rebel regions.

“Moscow respects the will of the people of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and assumes that practical implementation of the referendum results will proceed in a civilised manner, without any relapses of violence and through dialogue between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk,” the Kremlin said in a statement from its press service.

Separate state entity

Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych said the referendum was people’s reaction to Kiev’s “fascism.”

“Ukraine today reminds one of Germany during Hitler’s rule,” Mr. Yanukovych, who lives in Russia, said in a statement for the press on Monday.

He said the “bloody junta” in Kiev had killed “more than 300 civilians” in eastern Ukraine and called for immediate withdrawal of “troops and mercenaries” from Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Denis Pushilin, one of the leaders of the Donetsk Republic, said Donetsk and Luhansk would now set up a new state entity independent from Ukraine. He did not rule out seeking military help from Russia.

“We will try to deal with the situation ourselves, but if it deteriorates we reserve the right to ask for [Russian] peacekeepers,” he told a press conference in Donetsk on Monday.

Both Donetsk and Luhansk vowed that presidential elections Kiev plans for May 25 would not take place on their territory.

The Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced launching later this week “round table” talks between Kiev and Ukraine’s rebellious eastern regions moderated by the OSCE.

Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, whose country currently chairs the OSCE, said he had presented a roadmap for peace in Ukraine at a meeting with the European Union Foreign Ministers on Monday.

Last week, Mr. Burkhalter discussed his roadmap with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

However, separatists said they saw no room for compromise with Kiev’s authorities.

Mr. Pushilin said Kiev had practically shut the door to peace talks by mounting armed offensive against the region.

“The only thing we can talk about is exchange of prisoners of war,” he told reporters on Monday.

Fresh EU sanctions

The EU Foreign Ministers agreed to impose sanctions on two Crimean companies and 13 more individuals from Russia and Ukraine.

It is for the first time that Europe has taken aim at corporations rather than individuals.

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