- Rebel leader Zakharchenko says documents needed to vote
- Minsk peace deal calls for regions to remain within Ukraine
A separatist leader in eastern Ukraine began handing out passports, saying local residents would need them to vote in planned regional elections.
In an apparent breach of a 2015 peace accord to stem fighting between government troops and pro-Russian insurgents, Alexander Zakharchenko gave out 16 passports of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic to teenagers. The red documents, featuring the image of a double-headed eagle, will grant holders entry into Russia, he said in the city of Donetsk.
“We proved to our enemies and ourselves that we’re building an independent state,” Zakharchenko said Wednesday. “South Ossetia has recognized us, Russia will recognize us -- what other countries do you need?”
The conflict that’s killed more than 9,000 people in Ukraine’s easternmost regions and revived Cold War tensions remains unresolved, with last year’s peace agreement, sealed in Minsk, Belarus, still not fulfilled. That pact addresses local elections, stipulating that ballots be held once the rebel regions, which should remain part of Ukraine, have been granted special status.
The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Germany, Russia and France met March 3 in Paris to discuss the votes amid low-level truce violations that each side blames on the other. Elections should be held by June 30, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said after the talks.