Russia fighters, propaganda deployed to prevent Ukraine poll: Hague
Russia is deploying covert fighters and "enormous propaganda" to prevent Ukraine holding a presidential election later this month, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Wednesday during a visit to Kiev.
If Moscow succeeds, it would be "a terrible blow to democracy," said Hague, who accused Russia of engineering an independence referendum in Ukraine's east this weekend to undermine the May 25 presidential poll.
"There should be no doubt that the Russian government is trying to orchestrate conflict and provocations in the east and south of Ukraine," Hague told a news conference after meeting Ukrainian leaders.
"The immediate goal is the disruption of elections on the 25th May, although they might also be trying to provide a pretext for intervention," he warned.
Hague said Ukrainian troops were not battling only pro-Russian separatists but also the same special forces Russia sent to Crimea before its annexation in March.
"It is clear that the leading elements of these forces, from their training, their equipment, their identical behaviour to the infiltrators in Crimea, are not simply pro-Russia forces, they have been Russia forces," he said.
At the same time, "there is an enormous propaganda effort underway, directed from Moscow," Hague said.
Russia's aim is to prevent Ukraine's presidential poll at all cost, he said.
- 'Unacceptable pressure' -
He denounced the "unacceptable pressure to undermine those elections".
Western countries have thrown their full weight behind the election, seeing it as a key step to bringing political stability to Ukraine, where months of Kiev street protests forced the ouster of the country's pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych in February.
The pro-Russian separatists who seized more than a dozen towns in Ukraine's east following Crimea's annexation are planning an independence referendum on Sunday.
Hague said the referendum and the armed insurgency constituted interference from Moscow to prevent Ukraine's elections for a president, and some municipal authorities, going ahead.
He added: "A failure to hold those elections would be very serious.... That would be a terrible blow to democracy and, of course once postponed, who knows when they would be held."
He said Britain was working this week with its EU partners on more sanctions against Russia to pressure it to change course.
Kiev's Western backers, he said, "want de-escalation" through dialogue.
Russia denies it has any hand in Ukraine's eastern insurgency, claiming it is a spontaneous rejection of Kiev's authority.
President Vladimir Putin, though, last month dropped similar denials about sending Russian forces to Crimea, ultimately admitting they were present to "protect" the population ahead of the peninsula's annexation.
© 2014 AFP