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AKIPRESS.COM - Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to take steps to pull Ukraine back from an escalating cycle of violence, asking pro-Russian insurgents in the country to postpone a Sunday referendum on independence and indicating that he may be willing to recognize a national election later this month, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
The effort marked a significant shift in tone from the hard line that Putin and other top Russian officials have taken for months toward Ukraine's acting government in Kiev, which took power after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled in February in the face of popular protests.
“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,” Russian President said, speaking in Moscow alongside Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, who is leading negotiations as chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Putin said putting off the referendum about whether to establish independence from Kiev would help create the “necessary conditions of dialogue” with the acting central government.
The statements came after a week of escalating violence as Ukrainian authorities attempted to regain control over the east, largely without success. 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. Kremlin officials had previously said they would consider the election illegitimate if it were held in a climate of violence, while the United States and its allies had warned against delay or disruption.
Ukraine had never recognized the planned referendum as legitimate, and officials in Kiev reacted dismissively to Putin's move.
Vladimir Putin added a presidential election in Ukraine would be “a movement in the right direction, but only if all citizens of Ukraine understand that their rights are guaranteed.”