From the Wall Street Journal: “Putin Calls on Pro-Russian Separatists in Eastern Ukraine to Delay Independence Vote”
Mr. Putin’s appeal to the separatists to delay the referendum is the first time he’s publicly called on them to do anything to reduce tensions. Separatist leaders reacted with dismay, with some calling it a betrayal, and said they would formulate their response Thursday.
But the referendum was facing increasingly uncertain prospects, failing to generate a groundswell of popular support.
Ukraine’s military and police operation also has limited the ability of the separatists to consolidate their grip. Ukraine’s intelligence service has said that in intercepted telephone conversations, rebels sound increasingly desperate for help from Russia to fight off the Ukrainian offensive.
Even some separatist leaders admitted that their initiative was looking hopeless.
Kirill Rudenko, a spokesman for the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said that while he wasn’t reflecting the group’s official position, he found it difficult to imagine how they could hold a referendum in the midst of Kiev’s military campaign.
“In such circumstances, it won’t be possible,” he said.
Putin also reiterated his view that Eastern Ukrainians had to be given direct talks with the interim leadership in Kiev — which is a fairly reasonable thing to ask (and consistent with current European norms on settling autonomy / ethnic separation issues) as long as they’re not busy trying to lead an armed insurrection at the same time.
Russia should not have been surprised that there wasn’t an overwhelming flood of support for the separatist cause and annexation into the Russian Federation, given that polling less than two months ago showed that three quarters of Eastern Ukrainian residents didn’t approve of Russia’s Crimea takeover. That’s why it’s important not to buy too heavily into your own ginned up propaganda. The United States did in Iraq in late 2002 / early 2003 and look where that got us.
Interesting too, I think, that the separatists are being pushed back relatively easily so far, despite the rough shape of the Ukrainian armed forces and the large stockpiles of modern combat weaponry that the separatists have been reported to have.
I suppose that would lend credibility to the position of some of our Russian Federation readers who still assert there are no Russian special forces on the ground in the Donets Basin, in Eastern Ukraine. On the other hand, weapons drops and special forces advisers do not an army make, as both the U.S. and the Russians (previously the Soviets) have learned time and again in proxy wars in the developing world.