As previously reported, the key event of the weekend was the east Ukraine independence referendum which, as expected, passed by a landslide. Of course, the outcome of the referendum itself was largely irrelevant: all that mattered was that it happened, and that it gave the Kremlin the necessary and sufficient justification to intervene and enter the eastern territory when so needed. And hours ago, in its first official statement on the referendum, the Kremlin said Monday "it respects the secession referendum in eastern Ukraine and hopes for a "civilized implementation" of the results through talks between Kiev and representatives in the east." In other words, at least in the eyes of Putin, Ukraine no longer has a legitimate claim to remain in east Ukraine.
Pro-Russian separatists declared victory in Sunday's vote, ratcheting up tensions between the West and Moscow. In its first comments since the referendum, the Kremlin appears to challenge the West and Kiev's standpoint that it was illegitimate. (Read the latest updates on the crisis in Ukraine.)
The Kremlin said in a statement that Moscow welcomes all possible efforts to start negotiations between Kiev and separatist regions with the involvement of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
"Moscow views with respect the expression of the will of the people of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and expects that the practical implementation of the outcome of the referendums will be carried out in a civilized manner without any recurrence of violence, through dialogue between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk," the statement said.
And while the EU promptly proceeded with another round of largely meaningless sanctions, announced moments ago...
- EU FOREIGN MINISTERS ADOPT SANCTIONS ON 2 CRIMEAN COMPANIES, 13 PEOPLE OVER UKRAINE CRISIS -EU DIPLOMAT
... Russia continued to rub it in, when soon after the Kremlin statement was released, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov read it aloud during a live television broadcast. Mr. Lavrov said that Moscow sees no sense in a new round of four-way meetings akin to the Geneva talks in April between Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the EU, saying the Kiev government instead needs to directly negotiate with representatives of its eastern regions.
Following the Kremlin statement, Donetsk was ecstatic:
"This is great news, very happy news. Excellent, excellent," Miroslav Rudenko, one of the leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic said in response to the Kremlin's statement, which rebels in Ukraine's southeast see as a sign of support.
And while we previously reported that a Russian annexation vote (coupled with the implementation of the Ruble as currency), could come as early as next weekend, for now things are not quite clear on how long until Russia becomes the de facto land owner:
Mr. Rudenko described as unlikely the Crimea scenario—in which Russia quickly followed up a popular referendum with annexation—and said the Donetsk People's Republic therefore would take steps to develop as a sovereign state. Those include "integration steps" such as joining a Kremlin-run customs union with former Soviet republics and building relations with the neighboring Luhansk People's Republic, he said.
A poll by Kiev International Sociology Institute showed last month that less than a quarter of the people polled like the idea of federalization of Ukraine. This idea was supported more widely in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
To be sure Donetsk now can afford to wait - all it needs are a few more provocations by the Ukraine army to make up Kremlin's mind for it. One party whose time may have run out, however, is the Kiev government, whose IMF lifeline was conditional on keeping the country together. It failed. And now we wait to see what the IMF response will be since it is Russia, not the west, which continues to win the proxy war in Ukraine.