PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin last night asked the upper chamber of parliament to revoke a resolution allowing him to send troops into Ukraine.
“In the aim of normalising the atmosphere and resolving the situation in the eastern regions of Ukraine and also in connection with the start of three-way negotiations on this issue, a request was sent to the Federation Council to cancel the resolution,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Ukraine’s new Western-backed leader hailed Mr Putin’s request as “the first practical step” towards peace. In a statement, President Petro Poroshenko called it “the first practical step taken by the Russian President in the wake of his decision to officially support Ukraine’s settlement plan for the (eastern) Donbass region”.
Russian senators granted Mr Putin the right to send the army into Ukraine on March 1 following the ouster in Kiev of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych, arguing that Russian speakers in the country were threatened.
The deputy head of the Federation Council’s foreign affairs committee, Andrei Klimov, said lawmakers in the rubber-stamp chamber would pass the proposal to withdraw authorisation for military intervention at a vote today.
The surprise de-escalation comes as pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine agreed to a temporary ceasefire and talks with the new Western-backed President.
Kiev and its Western allies have accused the Kremlin of backing the rebels and US President Barack Obama warned Mr Putin that Russia risked fresh sanctions.
In March, Russia did deploy troops on Ukraine soil into the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea before officially annexing the territory later that month.
The surprise ceasefire announcement from the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic came a day after Mr Putin publicly threw his weight behind Kiev’s peace overtures and urged the separatists to halt firing.
Ukraine’s security services confirmed yesterday that militia strikes in the two heavily Russified industrial regions that have been at the heart of the insurgency came to an abrupt halt in the late afternoon.
The self-proclaimed prime minister of Donetsk said his side’s ceasefire would match the one earlier ordered by President Poroshenko and last until Friday morning.
“In response to the ceasefire declared by Kiev, we pledge to also halt fire on our part. This ceasefire will last until June 27,” Oleksandr Borodai told Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency in Donetsk. “We hope … we will be able to agree and begin consultations about holding negotiations about a peaceful settlement to the conflict,” he told Russian state television in separate comments.
The White House said Mr Obama told Mr Putin by phone that Moscow would face new sanctions if it failed to stop the flow of weapons into Ukraine.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Mr Obama used the call to drive home consistent US and Western warnings on Ukraine — that Russia must stop supporting separatists in the east of the country and halt the flow of weapons across the border.