The Ukraine presidential election on May 25 is important for a united Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen said at his monthly press conference on Monday.
“On May 25, Ukraine will hold presidential elections. This is an important opportunity to find a peaceful way forward for a united Ukraine,” he said. “This is when people across the country, regardless of the language they speak, have the chance to make their free and democratic choice in line with national law and international standards.”
Mr. Rasmussen said that “This is the vote that counts for Ukraine and for the international community”, possibly implying that the referendums held in Donetsk and Luhansk regions on May 11 for greater autonomy from the Ukrainian government was illegitimate.
Kiev and the West have repeatedly stated that the referendums were illegal and illegitimate, and that they would not recognize them.
Secretary Rasmussen also warned Russia of interfering with the Ukraine presidential election, saying: “Any effort to delay or disrupt the election would be an attempt to deny the Ukrainian people their choice, and a step backwards to find a genuine, political solution to the crisis.”
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has lately shown support for steps towards peace in Ukraine.
“President Vladimir Putin welcomes the first contacts between Kiev and supporters of federalisation, seeking to establish direct dialogue in which all parties concerned should take part,” the Kremlin said in a statement released on Monday.
In a phone call between Mr. Putin and Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, the two “expressed the hope that the constitutional reform process and the dialogue between the Kiev authorities and the regions, begun in accordance with the OSCE roadmap, will continue.”
President Putin ordered on Monday for the withdraw of the country’s military forces at the Ukrainian-Russian border.
However, NATO has stated that it has seen no signs of a withdraw of Russian troops from the border. Moscow has stated two times before that it had withdrawn its military forces from its border with Ukraine.
The crisis in Ukraine started back in late February when months of protest in the country’s capital, Kiev, turned violent, resulting in over 100 deaths and the ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovych.
Crimea then held a referendum in March on separating from Ukraine. Russia annexed the peninsula shortly later.
Pro-Russian activist have rose up since, primarily in eastern Ukraine, and demanded greater autonomy from the Kiev government.
A week ago, pro-Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk held referendums on separating from Ukraine. An overwhelming “yes” voted for independence and the two regions founded the People’s Republic of Donetsk/Luhansk.