Ukraine crisis: Will the Donetsk referendum matter?

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image captionThe ballot paper asks: "Do you support the act of state self-reliance of the Donetsk People's Republic?"

The self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic held a referendum on 11 May on independence from Ukraine - a vote condemned as illegal by Kiev and Western governments.

The pro-Russian organisers in Donetsk and the neighbouring region of Luhansk said an overwhelming majority of those who cast their ballots voted for self-rule.

Moscow said it respected the outcome of the referendum and called for peaceful "practical implementation" of the people's wishes in those regions of eastern Ukraine.

What can we expect to happen now?

In the view of the Kiev authorities and Western governments the referendum was a sham and a violation of international law which went ahead without legal provisions and lacking unanimous backing from the local population.

No international observers were present and there were many irregularities: not enough polling stations, no up-to-date voter lists and no proper checks on identity.

The Ukrainian "anti-terrorist operation" has been gaining momentum in eastern Ukraine, and the referendum is not going to stop Kiev's drive to reimpose Ukrainian sovereignty.

media captionCCTV showed the moment one Ukrainian candidate's HQ was hit by a petrol bomb

But Moscow evidently sees the result as further ammunition with which to challenge Kiev's authority, ahead of the planned 25 May Ukrainian presidential election - and says Kiev needs to focus on dialogue with the east.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had called on the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk to delay the referendum, to allow room for negotiations. Moscow's stance suggests that it is not preparing to annex these regions in the way it annexed Crimea in March.

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Donetsk says the referendum result will embolden the organisers - they are already talking about forming essentially a parallel government, even a parallel military structure. So Ukraine may be moving towards deeper division.

What was the aim of the referendum?

The objective changed several times. Initially, the vote was meant to decide on the federalisation of Ukraine and grant higher status to the Russian language. Later, self-proclaimed leaders said people should be asked whether they wanted their regions to join Russia "Crimea-style".

The ballot papers contained only one question in both Ukrainian and Russian: "Do you support the act of state self-reliance of the Donetsk People's Republic?"

Representatives of the self-proclaimed state say they intend to hold a second round of the referendum on 18 May, this time on the republic joining the Russian Federation.

Where was it held?

The referendum took place in the cities and towns controlled by separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

The Donetsk republic's election chief, Roman Lyakhin, said the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) had blocked access to up-to-date voter registers, so voter rolls from the 2012 parliamentary election were being used.

About three million ballot papers were said to have been printed, with the combined population of the two regions standing at about 6.7 million. Ukrainian TV showed ballot papers being printed on a regular printer and bearing no protection marks.

As the separatists control only some towns and cities, it is not yet clear how much of the territory of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic the referendum actually covered.

Who was behind the referendum?

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image captionSeparatists, including the self-proclaimed co-chairman of the Donetsk People's Republic, Denis Pushilin (C), want greater autonomy from Kiev

It was organised by the armed pro-Russian separatists who seized official buildings across the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in April.

Though the idea of more local autonomy is quite popular in those regions, one cannot conclude that the referendum result represents the majority view. There were too many flaws in the vote, which anyway had no international recognition.

Donetsk governor Serhiy Taruta - appointed by Kiev - called the referendum "a pure travesty". Opposition MP Mykola Levchenko also pointed out that it had no legal basis.

What is Kiev saying?

The Ukrainian government has said that it generally favours holding a nationwide referendum on decentralisation simultaneously with the 25 May presidential election.

However, the Ukrainian parliament on 6 May rejected a draft law on holding a legally non-binding referendum.

"It must be held, but not during a war," pro-government Fatherland MP Oleksandr Bryhynets argued.

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