Putin asks protesters to put off May 11 referendum

Peace gets a chance in strife-torn Ukraine as Russia and Europe agreed on a roadmap for ending the standoff between Kiev and rebellious Russian-speaking regions.

Following his meeting with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter in Moscow on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on pro-Russian protesters in Ukraine to postpone a referendum for “state sovereignty” they plan to hold on May 11 in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The rescheduling of the referendum is needed “to create the necessary conditions for dialogue,” Mr. Putin said in a statement for the press after his talks with the Swiss President.

‘Halt crackdown’

Another condition is a halt to the military crackdown on anti-government protesters in eastern Ukraine.

“Russia emphatically demands that Kiev’s authorities immediately call off all military and punitive operations in Ukraine’s southeast,” Mr. Putin said.

“The main thing today is to set up direct, full-fledged dialogue between Kiev’s current authorities and representative of Ukraine’s southeast, that would convince [the latter] that their legitimate interests within Ukraine would be guaranteed,” the Russian leader said.

Mr. Burkhalter, who is current head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), announced a four-point peace “roadmap” for Ukraine, which called for ceasefire, de-escalation of tension, the launching of dialogue and elections in Ukraine.

Mr. Putin made it clear the plan had Russia’s backing.

“Our approaches to ways for resolving this crisis largely concur,” he said about his talks with the Swiss President. The peace plan appears to have also been coordinated with Germany. Kiev’s reaction to the OSCE roadmap was not immediately known, but Ukrainian authorities on Wednesday released “people’s governor of Donetsk” Pavel Gubarev, arrested in March.

Mr. Gubarev and two more activists were exchanged for three Ukrainian security service officers captured by protesters in Sloviansk last month.

Hague in Kiev

British Foreign Secretary William Hague and U.N. Under-Secretary-General for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman arrived in Kiev on Wednesday for talks with Ukraine’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov and other Ukrainian leaders.

Protesters’ leaders in Donetsk region said they would consider Mr. Putin’s call to postpone a referendum at a meeting of their ruling council on Thursday.

More In: World | International | News