(DONETSK, Ukraine) -- The leader of the pro-Russian separatist “People’s Republic of Donetsk” requested Monday afternoon that Moscow consider annexing the eastern Ukrainian province, shortly after declaring independence.
“Given the will of the people of the Donetsk People's Republic, and in order to restore historical justice, we ask Russia to consider the issue of our republic’s accession into the Russian Federation,” said Denis Pushilin, the self-declared governor.
The request followed unofficial referenda in Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk province on Sunday in which separatist leaders said voters voted 89 percent and 96 percent, respectively, for independence for the regions.
Earlier on Monday, Pushilin told ABC News that the overwhelming results mean “the people now have the right to decide what is in the best social and economic interest of this region.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to respond, but had earlier called on separatist leaders to delay the vote. In a statement before Pushilin’s announcement, the Kremlin encouraged Kiev to have talks with pro-Russian leaders in the eastern part of the country.
"Moscow respects the will of the population of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and hopes that the practical implementation of the outcome of the referendums will proceed along civilized lines, without repeat outbreaks of violence and through dialogue between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk," the statement said, according to the Interfax news agency.
But Pushilin told ABC News that after several violent incidents that left pro-Russian protesters dead, the separatists in Donetsk have no meaningful contact with Ukrainian leaders in Kiev.
"The channel of interaction with Ukraine is very narrow, if not closed," Pushilin said. "The only negotiations with Ukraine at the moment is about hostages. I don’t see any other topics."
Ukraine’s interior minister also dismissed the idea of negotiations, saying that there can’t be talks with “terrorists” and that the Ukrainian security services will "restore constitutional order in the east of Ukraine."
The unofficial votes in Donetsk and Luhansk over the weekend have been condemned as improper and illegal by Western nations and Ukraine.
“We do not recognize the illegal referendum that took place in portions of Donetsk and Luhansk over the weekend,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Monday. “It was illegal under Ukrainian law and an attempt to create further division and disorder in the country.”
In Donetsk, those who turned out to vote were overwhelmingly pro-Russian separatists, while those opposing the vote stayed home.
In the clear Plexiglass boxes containing the ballots at a number of polling stations, it was impossible to spot a single “no” vote. ABC News witnessed several people dropping in more than one ballot and people were allowed to vote for absent family members.
Nevertheless, Pushilin defended the voting, saying that the large turnout made it legitimate. But armed with outdated voter registration rolls, it was impossible to accurately calculate turnout.
"The most important thing now is to build social and economic sectors," Pushilin said. "If we don’t do that, then this transitional period could be extended. The second result of the election is the formation of the army. Now after the official results come out all [Ukrainian] military formations present here will be asked to either come to our side or will be designated occupiers."
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