Pro-Russian forces in Donetsk and Luhansk decided to go ahead with the planned referendum for Sunday, May 11 despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request for the vote to be delayed. From Reuters:
Denis Pushilin, a leader of the self-declared separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, said the “People’s Council” had voted unanimously on Thursday to hold the plebiscite as planned.
“Civil war has already begun,” he told reporters. “The referendum can put a stop to it and start a political process.”
The declaration adds more confusion for the West. Experts found it odd when Putin said he wanted the forces to delay the referendum to leave more room for open dialogue with Kyiv.
Political analysts said Putin may have expected the rebels to go ahead with the referendum, showing that they were not under his orders. By distancing himself from a process that will not be recognized by the West, Putin may also be hoping to avoid further sanctions as they begin to affect the Russian economy.
Germany welcomed Putin’s decision and praised his words.
“We are perhaps at a crucial point,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement. While the situation in Ukraine remained critical, he said there was a chance diplomacy could stop an escalation of violence and a loss of control in eastern Ukraine.
“I welcome the constructive tone that President Putin struck after his meeting with the head of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). What was discussed in Moscow must now be translated into action immediately.”
Germany became the first country in the West to use the word “war” to describe the situation in east Ukraine. On May 6, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Ukraine was on the brink of war and told citizens in the east and south regions to leave. Germany previously advised German journalists not to venture into east Ukraine due to numerous kidnappings in the region, especially Sloviansk.
Putin also announced Russian troops will pullback from Ukraine’s border. According to NATO, there are no signs of de-escalation on the border.
NATO and the United States have both said they have seen no sign of a Russian withdrawal from the frontier despite Putin’s announcement he had pulled back troops.
When NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasumussen tweeted as much, the Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted back that “those with a blind eye” should read Putin’s statement.
The Kremlin was asked for a statement about the referendum, but they refused and said they needed more information. However, Putin’s spokesman noted the forces only made the declaration after Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Andriy Parubiy said the anti-terrorist operation will continue in east Ukraine.
Parubiy, who called the separatist referendums a “political adventure” conceived in “Putin’s maniacal imagination,” said that the anti-terrorist operation will continue “irrespective of the decisions of terrorist groups in eastern Ukraine.”