Despite Vladimir Putin’s apparent attempt at rapprochement, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine insist their Sunday referendum on secession will take place, a move which could lead to civil war.
More signs of concern from Washington last night with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urging U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to press Kiev to begin “direct, equitable dialogue” with its restive regions. In turn, Ukraine’s acting president and prime minister proposed a “round table” drawing in political forces and civil groups from all regions with international mediators helping out.
Putin’s motives are, as usual, opaque though it could be he hopes to avoid a third round of western sanctions – which would have to be much tougher – by calling on the separatists to suspend their vote on independence.
Washington and the EU have set any disruption of Ukraine’s May 25 national election as their red line. Putin has belatedly given rhetorical support to that vote. Today, Russia and Ukraine marks the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, a potent day. Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said he suspected Moscow was planning some form of “skirmish” to discredit Kiev.
All this and more will be discussed by Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande today when they meet in the German seaside town of Sassnitz in the German Chancellor’s constituency. They are due to talk to the press at 1500 GMT.