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'Putin must put a stop to this'

Pro-Russian separatists plan to hold a referendum in eastern Ukraine, despite Putin's call for the vote to be delayed. Gunther Krichbaum from the Committee on the Affairs of the EU says the poll lacks legitimacy.

DW: Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine don't appear to want to postpone the referendum scheduled for Sunday (11.05.2014). The international community has condemned the vote, and even Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for it to be delayed. Why are the separatists going ahead with the referendum despite this opposition?

Gunther Krichbaum: Vladimir Putin can't get rid of the spirits that he himself helped to summon - but it is still possible for Moscow to put a stop to all this. Moscow has the chance to end the conflict as quickly as possible, because the Russian propaganda machine is still running. Putin has every chance of putting a stop to this. But perhaps this announcement he's made, about not supporting the referendum, is also part of this propaganda.

So you see Putin's statement, asking for the separatists to postpone the referendum, as part of a larger plan with completely different aims?

I think that this situation isn't exactly an inconvenience for Putin. We'll have to wait for the outcome, but Putin could certainly offer his unreserved support for the Geneva dialogue to be resumed. Here he's imposed preconditions, namely that the separatists also have a seat at the negotiating table. But in eastern Ukraine there's no self-proclaimed republic; there's not even a self-proclaimed mayor. There are guerillas, separatists, militia leaders - and they don't make for fair negotiating partners.

What possibility do the separatists have of actually holding their referendum?

From the outset, this referendum doesn't have any democratic legitimacy. To hold a referendum you need recognition from the sovereign state responsible for determining free elections. But in this case, other parties have seized power. And already from a logistical point of view, there are certain key requirements missing. Elections and referenda need to conform to democratic standards. Voter registries need to be used, votes need to be free from influence - and there's no guarantee of that happening. Ultimately, the Ukrainian constitution applies here as well. Referenda can only be held if they take place at the national level.

The referendum in Crimea took place though, and also had significant consequences. With that in mind, do you think that the referendum will take place on Sunday?

It'll be a big "show event." Russia needs to expose it for what it is, namely an attempted coup. It's not acceptable, it's not supported by international law, and it's not even supported by Russia.

The referendum could also result in people not supporting Russia, but rather the West. The political majority in eastern Ukraine isn't as clear as it was in Crimea. Could the referendum also ease tensions on the ground?

That would only apply if a real referendum actually took place, and it would also have to be properly organized. That's missing here, any way you look at it. But it's quite right to note that the majority of people in eastern Ukraine think differently.

Two weeks ago, we visited Kyiv and Donetsk with the Committee on the Affairs of the European Union. We had formed our own opinions about eastern Ukraine, and once we got there we also had contact with a reputable public opinion research institute.

The vast majority of people want to protect Ukraine's unity. But a referendum like the one planned for Sunday isn't free from pressure and influence. That's why this vote lacks democratic legitimacy.

Gunther Krichbaum is chairman of the Committee on the Affairs of the European Union in the German parliament.

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