Russia has recognised the results of a controversial rebel elections in eastern Ukraine which it said would help re-establish “normal life in the region”.
Pro-Moscow rebels on Sunday elected a separatist leadership in a vote President Petro Poroshenko called “a farce“.
“We respect the expression of the will of the residents of southeast [Ukraine],” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Those elected have received a mandate to resolve the practical issues of re-establishing normal life in the region.” the statement added.
Meanwhile, the European Union said elections held by the rebels in eastern Ukraine are illegal, will not be recognised and are a new hurdle to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
“I consider today’s [polls] … a new obstacle on the path towards peace in Ukraine,” new EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini said in a statement on Sunday.
Mogherini said the polls were held “contrary to the letter and spirit” of the ceasefire and peace accords Kiev signed with the rebels in September, which were backed by the international community and Russia.
The Minsk protocols laid down that elections in the rebel controlled areas would take place in accordance with Ukrainian law in early December.
But the rebels rejected this, organising their own vote after Ukraine held national elections on October 26, which they prevented from taking place in their fiefdoms.
Mogherini said the vote provided for in the Minsk accords was “the legal and legitimate means” to elect local authorities in those parts of Ukraine.
“I call on all sides to work towards such elections,” she added.
The polls which closed late on Sunday, were won by Alexander Zakharchenko, the main rebel leader in Ukraine’s largest separatist region Donetsk, according to an exit poll conducted by the pro-Russia separatists.
Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, was on course to claim 81.37 percent of the vote in the presidential poll, rebel election chief Roman Lyagin said.
His party was also set to claim 65 percent of the parliamentary vote.
The run-up to the polls saw a spate of shelling by rebels of government positions across the conflict zone, where according to UN figures more than 4,000 people have died since fighting started around seven months ago.