President Vladimir Putin called on separatists in Ukraine to postpone a vote for autonomy and said he’s pulled Russian troops from the country’s border after weeks of tension, as the U.S. said there’s no sign of a withdrawal.
The Donetsk and Luhansk regions should delay referendums planned for May 11 in order to help “create the necessary conditions for dialogue” between pro-Russian forces in Ukraine and the government in Kiev, Putin said today in Moscow. He said Russian troops “are not on the Ukrainian border, they are in places where they conduct their regular drills.”
Ukraine’s border service said it wasn’t able to confirm the pullback, and that military drills near the frontier continued. Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters today that “we have seen no change in the Russian force posture along the Ukrainian border.”
Ukraine’s government and its U.S. and European allies have accused Russia of fomenting separatist unrest in eastern Ukraine, and warned that Putin may follow his annexation of Crimea with another land grab against his neighbor. The Russian leader’s speech today may ease those tensions, and it sparked a rally on Russian and Ukrainian financial markets.
“He is seemingly moving off the brink,” said Martha Brill Olcott, a senior associate with the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. “It still doesn’t defuse the situation in Ukraine unless Russia signals to the separatists that it won’t support their activities.”
Putin said today violence in Ukraine must stop for any dialogue to begin, and voiced support for the presidential election Ukraine plans to hold on May 25, which Russia has previously opposed. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday it should be delayed because of Ukraine’s internal unrest. The U.S. and EU say the vote should go ahead.
These are either completely disingenuous comments, such as one would expect from old KGB operatives, or evidence that Putin is under considerable political and economic pressure within Russia.
Whatever, a large invasion of Ukraine’s long Eastern border, rather than the current disguised presence of Russian military personnel would be more dangerous, provocative and expensive to maintain. Putin’s aggression to date has created bitter resentment among non-Russian Ukrainians in the country which supplies more military goods to Russia than any other nation. It has jeopardised Russia’s trade with many other European countries. More countries in the region are now planning to increase their defence spending and also join NATO.Back to top