Ukraine referendums create 'new reality' - media

Member of local election commission sorts ballot after ballots were taken from ballot box as commission start counting votes of referendum on status of Luhansk Ballots being sorted in Luhansk

The unofficial referendums organised by pro-Russian groups in parts of Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are covered extensively by media in both Kiev and Moscow.

While Ukrainian TV mocks the polls as a farce, the press says the referendum created a "new reality" and Kiev will have to negotiate with the separatists in order to avoid the disintegration of the country.

Russian media highlight claims by the referendum organisers that there was a big turnout. They predict that Ukraine "will never be the same" and that the Kremlin may use the poll results as a bargaining chip in talks with the West.

'Facing disintegration'

Ukrainian TV channels ridicule the referendums for their poor organisation, the lack of observers and the absence of up-to-date voting registers. Channel 5 TV called the poll in Donetsk a "pseudo-referendum", and Ukrayina TV doubts claims of mass participation. Its report speaks of empty polling stations and residents staying at home "for fear of armed guerrillas".

The same mood is reflected in Ukrainian social media. Luhansk blogger Olena Stepova sums up her experience of talking to voters by saying that "schizophrenia cuts everyone down". She says the "revolution" in the region is driven by "social injustice multiplied by fear of an imaginary enemy" (tinyurl.com/mxw3nqo).

"I understand that this is a 'civilisation choice' which has nothing to do with maths or statistics," writes prominent Ukrainian investigative journalist Mustafa Nayem on Facebook.

But political analyst Vadym Karasyov tells the Segodnya daily that "despite all the negative assessments of this 'referendum', it is a display of a new political reality". He argues that "as parallel bodies of power will be formed, Kiev will need to negotiate with the self-proclaimed leaders" in eastern Ukraine.

In the same paper, pundit Volodymyr Fesenko voices fears that Donetsk region, also known as the Donbass mining area, will end up like the Trans-Dniester breakaway pro-Russian territory in Moldova.

"If no compromise is reached soon, disintegration of the country will begin, along with large-scale civil conflict in the east," warns Dmytro Korotkov in the pro-Russian daily Vesti.

"The Ukraine that we used to know is gone," concludes pro-Russian journalist Oles Buzyna in Segodnya. "But there is still a chance that it may become like Belgium, a union of two republics - east and west."

Members of a local election commission count votes of the referendum on the status of Donetsk region in Donetsk Counting votes in Donetsk

'Genie out of bottle'

In Russia the main TV channels lead with reports that huge numbers turned out to vote in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The jubilant tone is also felt in the pro-government press. "Colossal turnout", wrote Moskovsky Komsomolets. "The results will show that the overwhelming majority of residents in Ukraine's south-east do not want to obey the Kiev Maidan rulers," Yevgeny Shestakov predicts in the official Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

For Yevgeny Minchenko, in Vedomosti, the separatists' decision to ignore President Putin's call for the referendums to be postponed "relieves Russia of responsibility" and disproves claims that Moscow was behind the unrest. "Putin now has an alibi against the West's claims,'" he argues.

But some major dailies like Kommersant complain that the referendums were organised "in a slapdash manner" and that no observers were seen to monitor the vote.

TV historian Nikolai Svanidze looks at the possible consequences of the referendum in Kommersant. He says the organisers hoped the results would prompt President Putin to "either send troops" or "place a serious bet on the south-east in his battle with Kiev". But he adds that the Kremlin's next move will depend on "how seriously Putin takes the threat of international sanctions and isolation, and the fact that there are not as many people willing to join Russia in the south-east as there were in Crimea".

"Ukraine will certainly never be the same. What happened in the south-east will be an example for other regions. They will not secede from Ukraine but it is likely we will see three or four new autonomies there," political pundit Leonid Ivashov predicts in Kommersant.

"The genie is out of the bottle and it is not easy to put it back," analyst Dmitry Polikanov tells the paper. The Kremlin "will most likely try to use the referendums as a bargaining chip" in negotiations with Kiev and the West, he concludes.

But Tatyana Ivzhenko thinks repairing Kiev's relations with Moscow will be far from easy. "The situation has reached deadlock, and yesterday's referendums do not help," she writes in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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