Ukraine crisis: Russia’s Putin ‘backs’ 25 May election

Written by | May 7, 2014 | 0

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says Ukraine’s presidential election on 25 May is a step “in the right direction”.

But he said the vote would decide nothing unless the rights of “all citizens” were protected.

Mr Putin also urged pro-Russian activists in south-eastern Ukraine to call off a series of independence referendums planned for this weekend.

It comes amid high tension between Russia and Kiev, and its allies in the West, over the crisis in Ukraine.

Moscow says it will protect the rights of the largely Russian-speaking people in the south and east against what it calls an undemocratic government in Kiev.

Kiev has rejected pro-Russian activists’ demands for greater autonomy, fearing it could lead to the break-up of the country, and has sent in troops in recent weeks to seize back official buildings occupied by rebels.

Earlier on Wednesday, pro-Russian separatists took back the city hall in the southern Ukrainian port of Mariupol after it was briefly taken over by Ukrainian government forces.

‘Conditions for dialogue’
President Putin was speaking after talks in Moscow with Didier Burkhalter, the Swiss president and current chairman of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

In what appeared to be a softer stance than in recent weeks, Mr Putin said he had pulled back Russian forces from the border with Ukraine after “we were told constantly about concerns” over their positioning.

He said the troops were now “in places of regular exercises, at training grounds”, but a Nato official told the BBC it had “not seen any significant change to the disposition of troops along the border”.

Mr Putin also said he had appealed for the referendums on greater autonomy planned for 11 May in southern and eastern Ukraine to be postponed “in order that conditions necessary for dialogue are created”.

On the forthcoming presidential elections, he said: “I would like to stress that… while they are a move in the right direction, [they] will not decide anything if all the citizens of Ukraine fail to understand how their rights are protected after the elections are held.”

Shortly before Mr Putin spoke, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague repeated the West’s view that Russia was “trying to orchestrate conflict and provocation” in Ukraine’s east and south.

Tensions have been high since Kremlin-backed forces seized control of the Crimean peninsula, which then voted to join Russia in a March referendum that Kiev and the West deemed to be illegal.

That followed the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February by pro-Western protesters.

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