Russia pulls back troops from Ukraine border

Russian President calls for delay in east Ukraine independence referendum

Updated - November 16, 2021 06:53 pm IST

Published - May 07, 2014 08:33 pm IST - Moscow

Russian President on Wednesday said Russia has pulled back its troops from the Ukrainian border.

Mr. Putin said on Wednesday that the troops have been pulled back to training grounds and locations for “regular exercises,” but didn’t specify whether those locations were in areas near Ukraine.

Earlier, Mr. Putin called for a delay in the referendum on independence for eastern Ukrainian independence, even as government and separatist forces clashed anew.

Mr. Putin made his plea after a meeting with Didier Burkhalter, the Swiss President and current chairman of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE). He said the referendum could not go forward until the proper conditions have been established.

Pro-Russian forces in Ukraine have been pressing for the Sunday referendum in the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk, arguing that they want to be independent from Ukraine and merged with a greater Russia.

To that end, many of their forces have occupied government buildings across the region.

The Ukrainian military has sought to quell the rebellion, sometimes with force and often with little success. The government has admitted it is losing control in the area.

Mr. Putin also called for the end of the anti-terror operations by the government and called for extremist pro-government forces in the region to be disarmed.

He also demanded the release of all political prisoners in the region, while praising the release of the pro-Russian governor of Donetsk, Pavel Gubarev, from Ukrainian custody. Mr. Gubarev was reportedly freed, in exchange for the release of three Ukrainian secret service agents by the separatist groups.

Mr. Burkhalter, who is also Swiss Foreign Minister, was in Moscow to advocate better implementation of the Geneva de-escalation agreement, reached last month between Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union.

Russia has blamed the West and Ukraine for not implementing the agreement, which stipulates the disarmament of all illegal groups and the vacating of occupied buildings throughout Ukraine.

Mr. Burkhalter on Wednesday advocated an action plan, under which the four parties would back the May 25 presidential elections in Ukraine and a parallel referendum on decentralisation. However, the Ukrainian parliament, in a vote Tuesday, rejected a plan for the referendum vote.

In Berlin, Petr Poroshenko, a former Foreign Minister regarded as a lead contender for the Ukrainian presidency, urged the West to impose new sanctions on Russia should the separatists go ahead with the referendum.

“Should Russia support this referendum, we absolutely need a concerted response in the form of a third wave of sanctions,” Mr. Poroshenko said in Berlin.

However, he said that, if he were to become president, he would be open to discussion on any referendum.

He said there was no space at international negotiations about Ukraine’s fate for the separatists, saying Ukraine was not prepared for talks with “terrorists.” “They are, quite simply, terrorists. Some of them are mentally ill,” he said, adding: “We have stuck to all agreements. The separatists, who are supported by Russia, have so far not fulfilled a single one.” Russia has said participation by separatist groups was necessary for any Ukraine conference.

Meanwhile, fighting broke out anew in eastern Ukraine as pro-Russian insurgents from Sloviansk attacked government forces surrounding the rebel-held city.

A rebel representative in Sloviansk told the Russian Interfax news agency that the fighting was concentrated around a television tower in the southern suburb of Andreyevka. “We are taking the checkpoints back under our control,” he said.

There was no immediate information on casualties, nor did the Ukrainian government comment on the reports.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who has been coordinating the operation in the region, said on Monday that the television tower had been retaken and was broadcasting Ukrainian channels.

Separatists, many of them heavily armed, have seized more strategic sites in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the past weeks, prompting the Ukrainian government to admit that it has lost control there.

Mr. Avakov claimed that government forces had retaken control of the city of Mariupol. “Mariupol has been completely freed” he said in a statement on his Ministry’s website.

Unconfirmed reports said that at least one pro-Russian activist was killed during the nightly raid on the city administration building.

Hundreds of pro-Russian activists gathered outside the administration building to protest against the eviction, 0629.com.ua news site reported.

An industrial city of almost half a million that borders the Sea of Azov, Mariupol is the second-largest city in the Donetsk region.

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