According to AFP, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine began voting in controversial leadership elections on Sunday (November 2) that Kiev and the West have refused to recognize and which threaten to further deepen the the conflict.
Fighting raged across the region on the eve of the vote, with seven Ukrainian fighters killed and intensive shelling at the ruins of Donetsk Airport, a key battleground between the rebels and government forces.
The elections in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic and Lugansk People's Republic, which are based around the two main rebel-held cities, which are designed to bring a degree of legitimacy to the makeshift military regimes that already control them.
Both illegal entities are choosing presidents and Parliaments, but there is little question that the current unelected rebel chiefs--Alexander Zharchenko in Donetsk and Igor Plotnitsky in Lugansk--will be confirmed despite their illegitimacy.
No international election monitors will be present for the vote, and no minimum turnout has been set by the organizers, reflecting the uncertainty over how many voters will even bother turning out.
"These elections are important because they will give legitimacy to our power and give us more distance from Kiev," said Roman Lyagin, election commission chief of the Donetsk People's Republic.
Russia, which denies fomenting the rebellion, but clearly maintains close links to the separatists, and has stated it will recognize the election results.
COMMENT: The one form of malfeasance committed by the Obama Administration is its unwillingness to provide desperate Ukrainian forces with weapons, ammunition and lethal material support with which to repel pro-Russian forces.
If pro-Russian separatists prevail militarily over the Ukraine, President Obama will have tainted hands as a result of the cease-fire existing in name only.
An infuriated Ukraine's pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko who referred to "the pseudo-elections that terrorists and bandits want to organize on occupied territory."
Moscow's backing for the vote has sparked a new round of criticism from the West, which has said that punishing sanctions against the Russian economy will not be lifted until the Kremlin does more to help implement a repeatedly violated truce in Ukraine.
The war has claimed more than 4,000 lives since it broke out in April 2014, with rebels wresting control of much of Ukraine's industrial southeast.
The truce signed on September 5, with Russia as one of the signatories, has stemmed the formidable fighting, but brought little indication of a lasting peace.
More than 300 people have died in the last 10 days alone, the United Nations said.
In a four-way telephone call on Friday (October 31), the leaders of Ukraine, Germany and France urged Russian President Vladimir Putin not to recognize the polls.
The White House on Friday said: "We deplore the intent of separatists in parts of eastern Ukraine to hold illegitimate so-called local 'elections' on Sunday."
The European Union and the NATO military alliance have also condemned the polling as illegitimate.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's national security service (SBU), issued a warning late on Friday of the risk of "provocations" during the separatist votes.
"The process of voting itself and of taking part in these elections is dangerous," the SBU official, Markiyan Lubkivsky, said. "Serious provocations are being prepared that can then be blamed on the Ukrainian authorities."
Escalating violence seems certain, given a spate of heavy shelling across the conflict zone over the last week.
On Saturday (November 1), Ukrainian authorities announced the deaths of six soldiers in the last 24 hours. Another soldier was killed and three more wounded in shelling later in the day, officials said.