Ukraine crisis: Pro-Russian separatists defy Putin as Ukraine 'sends 15,000 troops' to the border

Separatists from the Donetsk People's Republic have refused Putin's request to postpone a referendum on independence

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The Independent Online

Attempts to diffuse the growing crisis in Ukraine have floundered as Russia accused the government of sending 15,000 troops to the border and separatists from the troubled east defied President Vladimir Putin's request to postpone a referendum on independence.

"The referendum will be on May 11," Miroslav Rudenko, co-chairman of the self-declared government of the "Donetsk People's Republic" (DPR), was quoted as saying.

The decision to hold the vote as planned was unanimous, said Denis Pushilin, co-chairman of the DPR added.

Despite Putin urging separatists to delay a vote, Ukraine said its anti-terror operation would continue. At least 34 people, including many rebels, have died in that offensive which was launched last week, the government said.

Meanwhile, Russia's Defence Ministry claimed Ukraine had assembled 15,000 troops on its border with Russia and demanded the West to stop "cynically misinforming" the international community about events on the frontier between the two countries.

Earlier, Mr Putin had appeared to be softening his tone in the confrontation with the West by asking for pro-Russian activists to postpone a referendum on autonomy in Ukraine's troubled east ahead of a presidential vote on 25 May.

The presidential elections were "a step in the right direction", Mr Putin added, a remark that came heavily in contrast to comments made by his spokesperson describing them as "absurd" the day before.

The European Union has warned the referendum in eastern Ukraine "would have no democratic legitimacy and could only further worsen the situation."


The ballot is due to take place on Sunday and asks: “Do you support the act of proclamation of independent sovereignty for the Donetsk People's Republic?”

Separatist leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk say they will consider Mr Putin's request to postpone the vote and say they will put the matter "before people's councils".

The White House has responded by dismissing the vote as “illegal” and called for it to be cancelled instead of delayed.



In an unexpected move, Mr Putin said Russian troops have been pulled back to their training grounds and locations for “regular exercises”, but he did not specify whether those locations were in areas near its border with Ukraine.

But Nato and the US said they saw no indication of a Russian pullback, and the pro-Russia insurgents behind the referendum have not agreed to go along with Mr Putin's proposal.

Many had feared that Sunday's vote would be a flashpoint for further violence between the rebels and Ukrainian troops.

AN42983718DONETSK-UKRAINE--.jpgMr Putin said: “We believe that the most important thing is to create direct, full-fledged dialogue between the Kiev authorities and representatives of south-east Ukraine.

”Because of this, we ask that representatives of south-east Ukraine, supporters of federalisation in the country, postpone the May 11 referendum in order to create the necessary conditions for such a dialogue”

But it is unclear how much influence Moscow has with the insurgents, and many Donetsk residents appear eager to go ahead with the vote.

Additional reporting by agencies