Separatists Block Vote In East Ukraine

Kiev

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“Pro-Russian separatists in the embattled east of Ukraine got their way today, marring a presidential election that went smoothly across the rest of the country and was being endorsed by poll observers as the cleanest in the 23 years since Ukraine broke from the Soviet Union.” Read my full Daily Beast dispatch here.

And

“Exit polls tonight will give the first indication whether front-runner Poroshenko will have secured the necessary 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a June run-off. He has been widening his lead, according to recent opinion polls, over second-placed contender former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. But he may be denied an outright victory because of the crowded field, though some pollsters think he may have pulled off an absolute victory”

Pre-Election Violence Escalates in Eastern Ukraine

Kiev

From my latest for the Daily Beast three days before presidential elections:

“The interim government of Ukraine has called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council following a dawn attack today by separatists in east Ukraine that left at least 13 soldiers dead and up to 20 wounded. The country’s interim prime minister says he has evidence of Russian involvement in the attack, one of four to take place three days before Ukraine’s presidential elections.”

I have have heard of several families in Donetsk leaving, fearing there will be serious election violence in the east. There have been also worries expressed by foreign election advisers at the lack of preparedness by the Kiev government when it comes to security in the east for the polls. On that I write:

“Under Ukraine election law the police are tasked with providing election security but in the east many have sided with separatists or are not prepared to challenge them. Foreign election advisers were urging the government to amend the law to allow other security services, including the army, to have an election security role but ministers failed to do that. However, they have changed the law to allow soldiers to vote at local polling stations rather than their barracks arguing their presence in the voting queues may help to deter attacks.”

You can read the full story here.

The Mob, Ukraine and Moscow

Donetsk

From my latest Daily Beast dispatch from Ukraine:

“We have already seen organized crime working hand-in-hand with the Russians in Crimea,” says the prosecutor. In that breakaway Black Sea peninsula, Moscow helped install former gangland lieutenant Sergei Aksyonov as prime minister, and his background is well known. Aksyonov and his Russian separatist associates share sordid pasts that mix politics, graft and extortion in equal measure and together they helped steer Crimea into the Russian Federation.

“Why should it surprise you,” the prosecutor in Donetsk asks, “if the same dynamic [as in Crimea] is playing out here? … Maybe there are Russian intelligence agents on the ground, but Moscow through crime networks has an army of hoodlums it can use, too.”