‘We’re already not in Ukraine’ – rebel east readies secession vote; Putin calls for delay in vote

Pro-Russian armed separatists check a journalist at gunpoint in Donetsk May 6, 2014.

(Reuters) – Behind the barricades of tires and car bumpers, past the masked militants who hold Donetsk’s filthy administration building, there is a man in a suit in a spotless office, working from an Apple iMac on a vote to dismember Ukraine.

Roman Lyagin, 33, head of this self-proclaimed republic’s electoral commission, does not hide his distaste for the gunmen who seized control here a month ago, but he shares their aims.

“Every revolution accumulates its fair share of loons,” he told Reuters. But, he said, “we simply cannot live any more within Ukraine. Ukraine has already de facto said goodbye to us.”
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A man helps a pro-Russia rebel climb through a window of the city hall in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, on Wednesday. Reuters

MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday appealed to pro-Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine to delay a referendum on independence planned for this weekend, after talks with the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russian news agencies reported.

“Russia is ready to make its contribution to the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis and in the most positive, active way influence the Geneva process,” Mr. Putin said after talks with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, who is also the head of the OSCE, a Europe-wide group that that sought to help mediate the crisis. An agreement to calm tensions was reached in Geneva in April, but had little effect.

“The talks showed that our approaches to the means to resolve this crisis to large extent coincide,” Mr. Putin said. Weeks of diplomatic efforts have failed to resolve the conflict.

Mr. Burkhalter, addressing the same press conference in the Kremlin, said the OSCE would present a “roadmap” for resolving the crisis soon that would include a cease fire, de-escalation of violence, political dialog and elections.

Russian stocks and the ruble surged Wednesday after Mr. Putin appeared to soften his stance on the confrontation in Ukraine.

Mr. Putin called on the Ukrainian government to immediately cease its military operation against separatists militias in southeastern Ukraine. But he also appealed to those groups, which have strong allegiance to Moscow, to delay the secession referendum they had planned for May 11.

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