Putin Calls For Troop Drawback, Violence Persists In Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he's called for a withdrawal of Russian troops in Ukraine, but The White House and Ukrainians say otherwise.

Putin Calls For Troop Drawback, Violence Persists In Ukraine
Channel 4

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed a change of tone on Ukraine Wednesday, saying he has ordered Russian troops to withdraw from the Ukrainian border. 

Not only that, but Putin called for a delay in Sunday's referendum which would've allowed for Ukrainian separatists to vote for their autonomy. He added that Kiev's planned May 25 election is a "step in the right direction." (Via Channel 4)

Putin made these statements while standing next to the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE — the group coordinating mediation effort in Ukraine. But The White House and Ukrainians on the ground are having a hard time believing Putin. 

Speaking aboard Air Force One Wednesday, Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters there's been no evidence of a withdrawal of Russian troops and added, "What we’re focused on are not their words related to that effort, but concrete, tangible, transparent steps that they can take to contribute to a deescalation of tensions in Ukraine." (Via The White House)

The New York Times reports, "In Ukraine, there was a feeling that Mr. Putin was again seeking to manipulate the situation." That's a sentiment one BBC commenter agrees with:​

DR. NATHANIEL COPSEY: "He's stalling. He's buying time. This is part of a bigger process of seeing how far he can go and at the moment, I think he's pausing. He's taking in what he's learned about the nature of support for Russia in Ukraine." 

Despite Putin's call for a drawback of Russian troops, violence between Ukrainians and separatists in the southeastern region of the country hasn't stopped. CNN reports five pro-Russian activists were killed Tuesday by Ukrainian forces on the outskirts of Mariupol. 

And by Wednesday, the city hall in Mariupol had changed hands — as pro-Russian separatists re-took the building from Ukrainian forces in front of a cheering crowd. (Via Sky News)

The Wall Street Journal reports a separatist spokesman said they would decide by Thursday whether to agree with Putin's requests to recall troops and delay the referendum.