The Russian government has ordered its troops to withdraw from the Ukrainian border in hopes of halting increased violence in the area.Vladimir Putin alerted diplomats on Wednesday that he was urging separatists in southeastern Ukraine to delay Sunday’s scheduled secession vote. Putin, in a consultation with Swiss president Didier Burkhalter in Moscow, stated that Russia is to have its troops withdraw from the border to their training grounds for “regular exercise,” but failed to say whether those areas were close to Ukraine. A Russian Ministry of Defense official also failed to disclose the location.
At the same time Russia has asked the Ukrainian military to pause all of its current action against separatists who are in favor of the Russian occupation. The separatists have stormed local government buildings and police centers across at least a dozen cities along Ukraine’s southeastern border. As of last week the Ukrainian government has made a major effort to retake the buildings and cities that have fallen under pro-Russia separatist control. According to the government, 35 people, including many of the insurgents, have been killed in a Ukranian counter-strike.
Many residents of both Russia and Ukraine were frightened that Sunday’s referendum for the region’s independence would spark dangerous levels of violence between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russia insurgents. Since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula last March a vote has shown that the vast majority are in favor of Ukrainian secession.
In another statement explaining his reasons in withdrawing troops from the border, Putin said that Russia believes the most pressing matter is to open up a full discussion between officials in Kiev and officials in the Ukrainian southeast border regions. Putin said that the secession vote on Sunday, May 11 should be pushed out to a later date in order to achieve peaceful conditions for proper talks between the two factions.
Ukraine is set to continue with its presidential election on May 25, which Putin and other officials from Russia agree is a step in the right direction for the country. Swiss president Burkhalter said that Switzerland’s thoughts on Ukraine’s presidential election agree with Russia’s, although Putin states that reforms in the country’s constitution should come first. Ignoring Putin’s request, separatists stated that Sunday’s vote will still happen as planned. A group known as the “Donetsk People’s Republic” said that this voting day is critical to their cause.
Since Putin’s apparent willingness to withdraw Russian troops from the southeastern Ukraine border, the United States and the European Union have focused on repairing diplomatic ties before the presidential election takes place. The separatist situation has made the southeastern regions of the country unsafe for international journalists and visitors. Russia’s withdrawal of its troops from the southeastern Ukraine border shows significant improvements in the insurgent situation since the initial arrival of Russian tanks in March. Despite much work and long talks ahead, indications are that Russia, , the European Union, and the U.S. are making attempts to reach a diplomatic solution for the Ukrainian region.
By Scott Gaudinier