Russia’s deputy foreign minister suggested that the U.S. “practice yoga” and watch some sitcoms to chill out over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It seemed that Russia was the country who needed to chill out, though, as it lined troops on the Eastern border of Ukraine and freaked out the international community. Apparently, the world community thought the days of territorial expansion were so yesterday.
Russia appears to have finally realized they were the ones who needed to take a step back to realize the conflict has grown out of hand. Russian President Vladimir Putin may be able to control just about everything in his home country, but the separatists in Eastern Ukraine have stopped listening to even his demands.
Putin announced Russia had pulled back its troops from the Ukrainian border last week, where it appeared the troops could easily mobilize into Eastern Ukraine. While satellite images of the border show Putin has not yet acted on his word, the modified stance marks a break from more obstinate policy.
While claiming to pull back troops, Putin also called for a delay in the referendums organized by separatists in the southeastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. The May 11th elections were held anyway. Each region has since proclaimed its independence, asking to be absorbed by Russia.
Kiev has dismissed the results as illegitimate, which The New York Times said, “took place in such a state of lawlessness that no one other than the organizers and perhaps their Russian patrons seemed likely to accept the result as a democratic expression of the voters’ will.”
The Economist points out “this bogus referendum” was illegal, surrounded by violence, had no electoral registers and posed an unclear question to voters.
The Kremlin’s stance on the referendums it tried to delay was more in line with the views of the rest of the international community than usual. While respecting the will of each region’s population, Russia said the conflict should be resolved through a dialogue between the government in Kiev and the eastern representatives.
Although Russia has cooled its stance, the separatists have not followed. Rebels ambushed and killed six Ukrainian soldiers on Tuesday in Donetsk, the most deaths for the army in an individual incident. After the referendum, Donetsk’s de facto separatist government considers the Ukrainian soldiers occupants.
The political conflict appears to be headed in the direction of a more decentralized government in Ukraine rather than a Russian takeover. Round table talks began Wednesday between the government and Eastern representatives, with partial oversight by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Russia and separatists support a federalization program weakening the central government and granting regional governors more power, which would grant more autonomy for regional leaders to lean East while keeping the country together. The Ukrainian government, however, sticks to a more moderate decentralization program which would increase local power. Kiev’s central government has had a “reputation since the Soviet collapse a generation ago of being a cesspool of corruption and mismanagement.”
The talks have not produced any “diplomatic breakthroughs” as of yet, according to reports from the Washington Post.