Ukraine bans Russians from monitoring elections

An election observer of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stands as electoral commission members count ballots at polling station in Kyiv. (AFP pic)

KIEV: Ukrainian lawmakers on Thursday voted to ban Russians from monitoring a forthcoming presidential election, as tensions between the neighbours flare before the poll.

Kiev, fighting a Moscow-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, has said it suspects Russia of planning to interfere in the election.

Lawmakers also voted to allocate around US$350 million (308 million euros) to the intelligence services to counter the perceived threat.

Thursday’s measure would block Russian nationals from taking part in international election-monitoring missions, and would also apply to parliamentary and local votes.

The proposal has been condemned by Moscow and Kiev’s Western allies alike.

Kurt Volker, the US special representative in Ukraine, said Russians should take part in monitoring as long as they were overseen by international organisations.

If they do not take part, this allows “people to question election,” Volker wrote on Twitter ahead of the vote.

“No games. Ukraine needs to have confidence in its own democratic institutions,” he said.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is preparing an extensive mission for the March 31 poll.

Russian senators told news agencies that Moscow might not recognise the results of the Ukrainian election if Russian observers are not allowed to monitor them.

Russia’s OSCE envoy Alexander Lukashevich called the ban “a gross violation of Ukraine’s OSCE commitments and international legal norms,” in comments carried by the RIA news agency.

Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian who plays the Ukrainian president in a TV series, is currently favourite to take on the real-life role, according to polls.

Zelensky is ahead of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and incumbent Petro Poroshenko, as many voters turn their backs on the political class.

But there are a record number of candidates and the race remains unpredictable.

Ties between Moscow and Kiev dramatically deteriorated after a pro-Western government came to power following a 2014 revolt against a pro-Kremlin leader.

That year Moscow annexed Crimea and began backing rebels in a conflict in eastern Ukraine that has already claimed some 13,000 lives.