[WSF-Discuss] Russia's Putin calls for postponement of referendum in eastern Ukraine

Sukla Sen sukla.sen at gmail.com
Wed May 7 12:57:54 CDT 2014


[That's an interesting development, as it seems.

Definitely a significant step away from the (defiant) declaration of
Russian rights to unilateral military intervention beyond its borders to
protect Russian interests.

Instead of (a false and deceptive) triumphalism, the rival camp must seize
upon this moment of unique opportunity and seriously engage in
peace-building .]

MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to take conciliatory
steps Wednesday to ease tensions in Ukraine, calling for pro-Russian
separatists in the eastern part of the country to postpone a planned Sunday
referendum that could exacerbate violence and saying that a May 25
presidential election whose legitimacy the Kremlin had previously
questioned was now "a movement in the right direction."

The remarks marked a significant shift in tone from the hard line that
Putin and other top Russian officials had taken for weeks toward the acting
government in Kiev, which took power after pro-Russian Ukrainian president
Viktor Yanukovych fled in February in the face of popular protests.
Russia's Putin calls for postponement of referendum in eastern Ukraine

*View Photo Gallery --* Growing disorder in eastern Ukraine: Cities across
eastern Ukraine have been overtaken by pro-Russian protesters in recent
weeks, leading the Ukrainian military to respond with force in some areas.
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/growing-disorder-in-eastern-ukraine/2014/05/03/0afcb5f2-d301-11e3-95d3-3bcd77cd4e11_gallery.html>
    By Michael Birnbaum<http://www.washingtonpost.com/michael-birnbaum/2011/03/02/ABftvmP_page.html>,
Fredrick Kunkle<http://www.washingtonpost.com/fredrick-kunkle/2012/11/06/ae6b027c-282e-11e2-96b6-8e6a7524553f_page.html>and
Simon
Denyer<http://www.washingtonpost.com/simon-denyer/2011/03/02/AB1uvmP_page.html>,
Updated: Wednesday, May 7, 10:14 PM
MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to take conciliatory
steps Wednesday to ease tensions in Ukraine, calling for pro-Russian
separatists in the eastern part of the country to postpone a planned Sunday
referendum that could exacerbate violence and saying that a May 25
presidential election whose legitimacy the Kremlin had previously
questioned was now "a movement in the right direction."

The remarks marked a significant shift in tone from the hard line that
Putin and other top Russian officials had taken for weeks toward the acting
government in Kiev, which took power after pro-Russian Ukrainian president
Viktor Yanukovych fled in February in the face of popular protests.

Putin also said the Russian military has pulled back from the Ukrainian
border, where troops massed in recent weeks for exercises that the
Ukrainian government considered threatening.

However, a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday that "we've seen no change" in
Russia's posture along the border. U.S. officials have said about 40,000
Russian troops were deployed there.

"All of us are interested in settling this crisis, in settling it as soon
as possible, accounting for the interests of all Ukrainian citizens
irrespective of their place of residence," Putin said.

"We are asking representatives in the southeast of Ukraine and supporters
of federalization to postpone the referendum scheduled for the 11th of
May," Putin told reporters in Moscow. Speaking alongside Swiss President
Didier Burkhalter, chairman of the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), after a meeting about the Ukrainian crisis,
Putin said that postponing the referendum would help create the "necessary
conditions of dialogue" with the government in Kiev.

Addressing the issue of Russian troops, Putin said: "They kept telling us
they were concerned about our troops on the Ukrainian border. We pulled
them back. They are no longer staying on the Ukrainian border but are in
their bases and at training ranges."

He gave no indication of the location of those bases and training ranges.

Putin called for the Ukrainian government to stop attempts to retake cities
from separatists in eastern Ukraine, saying that the military action was
impeding dialogue between the two sides.

It was not immediately clear whether the pro-Russian separatists would
indeed reschedule their May 11 referendum. One separatist leader said
earlier Wednesday that the referendum would aim to establish an
independent, Russian-friendly state in territory that is currently
Ukrainian.

The separatists called the referendum to decide whether the Donetsk region,
Ukraine's industrial heartland, should become a sovereign republic. Some of
the separatists operate under the banner of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk
People's Republic."

A spokeswoman for the Donetsk People's Republic who gave her name only as
Clavia said the group's leaders are aware of Putin's comments and will meet
to discuss their next move. She said they would hold a news conference
Thursday to give a response.

Roman Lyagin, chairman of the Central Election Committee of the People's
Republic, said the referendum could be postponed if the separatist
government decided to do so.

"We are preparing a referendum on schedule," he told the Russian news
agency RIA Novosti. "But if the leadership of the Donetsk Republic decides
to postpone the date of the referendum, we will have to agree with it."
Lyagin added that the Ukrainian presidential election will not be held in
Donetsk.

Putin's statements came after a week of escalating violence as Ukrainian
authorities attempted to regain control over the east, largely without
success. Clashes Friday between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian activists in
Odessa, Ukraine's main Black Sea port, ended with hundreds of pro-Russian
protesters trapped in a burning building. More than 40 people died. Many
Ukrainians fear fresh violence on Victory Day, the annual May 9 holiday
that holds deep significance for Russians because it marks the capitulation
of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union during World War II.

Putin also expressed qualified support for Ukraine's May 25 presidential
election, a vote aimed at legitimizing a new government that would replace
the current interim administration, which has struggled to control its own
security forces. Kremlin officials had previously said they would consider
the election illegitimate if it were held in a climate of violence.

"The presidential election itself is a movement in the right direction, but
only if all citizens of Ukraine understand that their rights are
guaranteed," Putin said, referring to concerns by ethnic Russians that
their freedoms could be curtailed by Ukrainian nationalists.

Burkhalter said the OSCE would propose a roadmap for Ukraine within hours
that would include a cease-fire, a de-escalation of tensions, dialogue and
elections.

Earlier Wednesday, Ukrainian forces briefly recaptured a
separatist-controlled government building in Mariupol, a key industrial
city on the Sea of Azov, then abruptly surrendered it to the pro-Russian
militants.

The retreat dealt an embarrassing blow to Ukrainian authorities' attempts
to regain control over their territory in the restive eastern part of the
country, where the separatists have seized several cities.

The battle for Mariupol began Tuesday night with a gun battle lasting more
than an hour between armed separatists and police in a small town outside
the city. One rebel was killed and two captured, including Igor
Kakidzyanov, the defense minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, police
said. Rebels and police accused each other of starting the fighting.

In response, separatists burned tires and blocked roads in the Mariupol
city center Tuesday evening. In a bid to regain control of the city,
Ukraine's security forces then raided the separatist-held city council at
dawn Wednesday, firing tear gas and arresting the men who were guarding it.
A Ukrainian flag briefly fluttered over the council building in the
morning, while police conducted a "crime scene examination" and started
taking down barricades around the structure.

But when a large pro-Russian crowd turned up at the building, Ukrainian
authorities melted away and let separatists retake control without a
struggle, witnesses said.

"Police are trying to explain that it is illegal to participate in mass
riots, but ordinary people will not suffer from the police," police
spokeswoman Yulia Lafazan said. She could not say why police gave the
building back to the separatists.

At one police station in the city, as many as 100 people gathered to demand
the release of 16 separatists. For a couple of hours, they argued with
troops impassively guarding the station, shouting "fascists" and "killers"
at them.

But when members of the crowd tried to open the gate of the compound and
climb a fence surrounding it, the atmosphere deteriorated quickly. The
troops fired into the ground and into the air and detonated smoke grenades.
They later left the building with guns at the ready, causing the crowd to
scramble for cover and forcing some to lie on the ground.

Medics said three men were injured. Two of them told medics that soldiers
struck them in the head with rifle butts. Two trucks containing more
soldiers turned up and evacuated their comrades.

If authorities manage to gain control of Mariupol, it would deal a blow to
separatists' plans for the referendum. But with the government and
separatists routinely swapping territory in the east in recent days, the
rapid turnover in Mariupol on Wednesday appeared to be just the latest in
the back and forth.

A separatist leader in the Donetsk region said Wednesday that if residents
decide in favor of independence from Kiev, he would seek to build a new
state that would be independent both from Ukraine and Russia.

"We plan to unite . . . on the principles of federalism to form a new state
called Novorossia," or New Russia, Miroslav Rudenko, a co-chairman of the
separatist movement in the Donetsk region, told Russia's Interfax news
agency Wednesday.

Speaking before Putin made his surprise call for postponement of the
separatist referendum, British Foreign Secretary William Hague charged
during a visit to Kiev on Wednesday that the Putin government appeared
intent on disrupting Ukraine's upcoming elections or creating a pretext for
military intervention. Hague also commended efforts by the interim
Ukrainian government to restore order while exercising restraint and
preparing for the national elections.

"There should be no doubt that the Russian government is trying to
orchestrate conflict and provocation in the east and south of Ukraine and
that the immediate goal is to disrupt elections on the 25th of May --
although, of course, they may also be trying to provide a pretext for
intervention by using civilians as cover," Hague said.

Hague told reporters in Kiev that the Ukrainian government has shown
determination to go forward with the elections despite what he said were
Russia's attempts to disrupt them. He said that an international group of
about 1,000 election monitors would observe the balloting, including about
100 from the Britain. His country was also providing "technical know-how,"
Hague said.

"A failure to hold those elections would be very serious, I think, and
would show from outside the holding of a democratic election can be
undermined." That would be "a terrible blow for democracy," Hague said,
adding: "And once postponed, who knows when they would be held?"

Ukraine's central bank said, meanwhile, that it had received the first $3.2
billion tranche of emergency loans from the International Monetary Fund,
helping to prop up the government's teetering finances.

*Kunkle reported from Kiev. Denyer reproted from Mariupol. Alex Ryabchyn in
Donetsk and Anna Nemtsova in Odessa contributed to this report.*

-- 
Peace Is Doable
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