The Ukrainian government on Wednesday launched round-table talks on “national unity,” but failed to invite any representatives from the rebellious south-eastern regions.

The round-table in Kiev was organised under a peace plan proposed by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to help implement the Geneva accord on resolving the Ukraine crisis, which was negotiated on April 17 by Russia, the United States, the European Union (EU) and the interim government in Kiev.

Kiev authorities invited to the round-table representatives of all Ukrainian provinces with the exception of Donetsk and Luhansk, which on Monday declared their independence on the basis of an unofficial referendum conducted in the two regions on Sunday.

Refusal to invite

Ukrainian leaders refused to invite “blood-stained” separatists, but lawmakers from Donetsk and Luhansk — elected long before the current crisis broke out —were not called either, because they supported “federalisation” of Ukraine.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed on Wednesday that the Geneva agreement called for “inclusive” dialogue of all parties and regions in Ukraine.

The co-chair of the interim government of the People’s Republic of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, told Russia’s Kommersant FM radio that pro-independence activists are willing to put down their arms if Kiev authorities withdraw their troops from the region.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who visited Ukraine on Tuesday, failed to persuade its leaders to talk to the separatists in the east, apparently because Kiev takes the cue from Washington.

U.S.’s warning

U.S. Undersecretary of State Richard Stengel, who was in Kiev after Mr. Steinmeier, reiterated Washington’s strong support for Ukrainian authorities and warned Russia of further sanctions if it interferes with the presidential election, due in Ukraine on May 25.

Moscow, which earlier called for postponing the Ukrainian vote until after a constitutional reform, has recently softened its stand.

Russian Parliament Speaker Sergei Naryshkin said on Wednesday that while Ukrainian authorities’ refusal to speak to the rebels would undermine the legitimacy of the presidential election, the failure to hold it would be even worse.

“It’s hard to imagine that this election could be fully legitimate,” Mr. Naryshkin said on Rossiya 24 television. “But it’s obvious that the failure to hold the election would lead to an even sadder situation, so it’s necessary to choose the lesser evil.”

Meanwhile, separatists have ruled out holding the vote in the newly proclaimed “People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

On Wednesday, rebel activists seized election commission buildings in the towns of Gorlovka and Antratsit in order to disrupt preparations for voting on May 25. Self-defence forces in Donetsk announced changing their tactics from repulsing attacks by government troops to launching their own offensive. “Now that we have declared independence, the Ukrainian military here is an occupation force and we will do our best to drive it out from our land,” said Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, “People’s Mayor” of Sloviansk.

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