Ukraine holds crisis talks following disputed rebel election

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will hold crisis talks with his security chiefs Tuesday after pro-Russian separatists held elections meant to assert their independence from Kyiv.

Poroshenko said the Sunday vote was a farce that violated a September cease-fire with the rebels, whom he dismissed Monday as “bandits, terrorists and interventionists.”

“The pseudo-elections are a brutal violation of the Minsk Protocol of September 5th,” Poroshenko said. “The Minsk Protocol provides for the holding of early local elections in the area of Donbass solely under the laws of Ukraine.

“We provided them with the given opportunity. The farce of November 2 jeopardizes the entire peace process, the beginning of which has been achieved at the coast of outstanding efforts,” Poroshenko said.

He also said he plans to cancel parts of the peace plan that would have offered a degree of autonomy to the areas held by the rebels.

US, UN, EU reject election

Sunday’s balloting aimed to fill pro-Russian legislative bodies in the Russian-speaking eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. However, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union have all rejected the vote and say they will not recognize the outcome.

In Washington, meanwhile, NATO’s top general painted a bleak picture of Western ties with Russia.

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, in a briefing with reporters, said Moscow’s interference in the Ukraine crisis threatens to create what he called “a frozen conflict.”

Breedlove said he believes there are as many as 300 Russian troops inside Ukraine training and equipping rebels, and said about seven Russian battalions remain poised on the Russian side of the Ukraine border.

He also warned that Moscow is effectively working to shift that border westward into Ukraine territory.

Moscow denies involvement

Moscow has denied any direct role in the uprising, which has claimed more than 4,000 lives since pro-Russian rebels took up arms against the Kyiv government in April.

The Kremlin has described Russian soldiers fighting alongside rebels in Ukraine’s east as volunteers.

It was not clear Monday whether Moscow would formally recognize the rebel-held territories. But a Russian deputy foreign minister said the newly elected leadership in Luhansk and Donetsk now has a mandate to negotiate with the Kyiv government.

Sunday’s polls in Ukraine’s east came a week after voters in the rest of Ukraine voted overwhelmingly for a new parliament dominated by pro-Western lawmakers favoring closer ties with western Europe.