After meeting with the Swiss president, Didier Burkhalter, who is also the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in Moscow on Wednesday, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin called on the separatists in Ukraine to postpone the referendum for autonomy in southeastern Ukraine that was scheduled for May 11th.
Whether or not the separatist movement in Ukraine will heed the Russian president’s call to stand down is unknown. A leader in the movement in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said that the “people’s council” will have a discussion as to whether to postpone the vote on Thursday. It was a referendum held in the region of Crimea that led to the annexation of that region by Russia.
Putin also announced that Moscow had ordered the troops massed along the border with Ukraine to move back to their usual operating areas. “We’re always being told that our forces on the Ukrainian border are a concern. We have withdrawn them. Today they are not on the Ukrainian border, they are in places where they conduct their regular tasks on training grounds,” Putin said.
NATO and Ukrainian officials say that there has been no sign that troops are moving away from the border. The Pentagon also reports that satellite imagery shows no sign of movement either.
Putin called the elections scheduled for May 25th to elect a new president for the country, “a move in the right direction.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the Ukrainian National Guard moved in the city of Mariupol and retook control of the city’s administrative center from the separatists. Once taken however, the troops left the building. Later separatists could be seen re-erecting barricades around the building.
Ukrainian troops also moved on the city of Slovyansk and advanced on pro-Russian rebels there.