Ukraine now backs referendum on federation to ease tension
UKRAINE'S interim president yesterday made a dramatic about-turn aimed at defusing tensions in the separatist east by backing a national referendum on turning the former Soviet republic into a federation.
Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov's U-turn came only hours after pro-Kremlin militants ignored an ultimatum to end their occupation of strategic buildings or face a "full-scale anti-terrorist operation".
In all, separatists have seized government buildings and security facilities in 10 cities in eastern Ukraine since Saturday.
The pro-Kremlin gunmen's latest raids were especially unsettling because of their remarkable similarity to events leading up to Russia's annexation of Crimea.
The balaclava-clad gunmen were armed with special-issue assault rifles and scopes most often used by nations' crack security troops. They also moved with military precision and cohesion.
Tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed along Ukraine's eastern border near Donetsk, the provincial capital, and Western leaders were worried that Moscow might use unrest in the country's mainly Russian-speaking areas as a pretext for invasion.
Mr Turchynov had long and furiously resisted Russia's idea of turning Ukraine into a federation. But he said that he was ready to put it up for a national vote to prove that most shared his view.
"We are not against holding a national referendum that - if Parliament adopts the corresponding decision - could be held together with the presidential elections," Mr Turchynov said, in reference to the May 25 vote.
"I am certain that a majority of Ukrainians will support an indivisible, independent, democratic and united Ukraine."
AFP, NYT, REUTERS