Russian President Vladimir Putin has pulled his forces back from the border and endorsed Ukraine’s presidential election on May 25 as a step “in the right direction”.
Speaking on Wednesday during a meeting with the Swiss president, President Putin appeared willing to keep his promise not to invade Ukraine (for now).
“We’re always being told that our forces on the Ukrainian border are a concern. We have withdrawn them. Today they are not on the Ukrainian border, they are in places where they conduct their regular tasks on training grounds,” Putin said.
After a tumultuous week that involved pro-Russian militants wreaking havoc in Odessa while Ukrainian officials scrambled to reclaim what’s left of the eastern region of the country, killing at least 30 pro-Russian separatists in the process, Putin now appears willing to make some concessions – with a few conditions of course.
Putin urged pro-Russian activists in southeastern Ukraine to cool it, suggesting that the series of independence referendums planned for this weekend should be called off “in order that conditions necessary for dialogue are created”. Instead, he gave his approval to the May 25 presidential election in Ukraine, calling it a “step in the right direction.”
BUT Putin made it clear that the vote would decide NOTHING unless the rights of “all citizens” were protected.
“I would like to stress that… while they are a move in the right direction, [the election] will not decide anything if all the citizens of Ukraine fail to understand how their rights are protected after the elections are held,” Putin said.
The Kremlin says it will protect the rights of the largely Russian-speaking people in south and east Ukraine against what it calls an undemocratic, Euro-wannabe government in Kiev.
Of course, protecting the rights of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population was kind of their rationale for annexing Crimea, so who knows what will happen…
UPDATE: NATO and the Pentagon say Putin is pulling a fast one on them and there is no indication that Russia has withdrawn its forces from its border with Ukraine. Oh Putin!