Kiev plans to prevent Russians in Ukraine from voting in Russian election

KIEV (Reuters) - The Ukrainian Interior Ministry will not allow Russian citizens in Ukraine to vote in Russia’s presidential election after Moscow decided that the vote would also be held in Crimea.

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov is seen before the meeting of national security and defense council of Ukraine in Kiev September 22, 2015. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and has since treated it as Russian territory despite economic sanctions from the West. As a result, polls will open in Crimea on Sunday to allow residents to vote in the Russia-wide ballot.

As part of his campaign for re-election, President Vladimir Putin visited Crimea on Tuesday and addressed a crowd of cheering supporters with a speech that emphasized Russia’s claim to the territory.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Moscow had ignored a request from Kiev not to hold what the ministry described as an “illegal” election in Crimea, prompting the ban on Russians voting on Ukrainian territory.

“On Sunday March 18, 2018, the security regime for the Russian Federations’s diplomatic missions on Ukrainian territory in Kiev, Kharkiv, Odessa and Lviv will not provide Russian citizens access to these buildings for voting,” Avakov said.

Relations between Kiev and Moscow collapsed after the 2014 annexation and the eruption of a conflict with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donbass region, which has killed more than 10,000 people

The interior ministry’s announcement may be welcomed by nationalist forces in Ukraine, some of which had planned to band together to block access to polling stations in Russian diplomatic buildings on Sunday.

Avakov said that, on the day of the vote, only Russian diplomats would be allowed to enter the embassy in Kiev and Russia’s consulates in the major Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Odessa and Lviv.

“To avoid provocation and possible drastic consequences, police and national guard units will ensure the proper protection of all diplomatic representatives and buildings on this day,” he said.

It is not clear how many Russian citizens are in Ukraine and plan to vote on Sunday.

“This is a blatant violation of international obligations, international law and particularly a violation of the rights of our citizens,” the head of Russia’s central election commission, Maya Grishina, was quoted as saying by Russian news agency RIA.

Reporting by Alessandra Prentice and Natalia Zinets; Editing by David Goodman