Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on separatists in eastern Ukraine to postpone plans to conduct referendums on self-determination planned for May 11.
Speaking after meeting on May 7 with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, whose country currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Putin called on the pro-Russia separatists to hold their referendums at a later date.
At the same time, Putin called on authorities in Kyiv to immediately halt security operations in eastern Ukraine aimed at wresting control of several cities and towns from the pro-Russian separatists.
Putin also said the planned presidential election in Ukraine, set for May 25, was a "step in the right direction" but would not help solve that country's problems, as there are people in Ukraine who do not understand how their rights would be protected after the election.
He blamed the "organizers of the February coup" for allowing the situation in Ukraine to get out of control and failing to disarm what Putin called "right-wing radical and national elements."
Putin rejected claims that Russia held the key to restoring stability in eastern and southern Ukraine, saying such assertions were a "trick of our Western partners that have no basis."
The Russian leader welcomed the release of the so-called "people's governor" of Donetsk, Pavel Gubarev, and two others who were exchanged for three captured Ukrainian Security Service agents earlier on May 7, but Putin said all "political prisoners" in Ukraine must be freed.
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Putin said Russia's approach to resolving the conflict in Ukraine and the approach of the OSCE coincide "to a substantial degree."
He also claimed Russian forces near the Ukrainian border had been pulled back but added that those forces had withdrawn to their areas of "permanent exercises."
There have already been reports that pro-Russian leaders in Donetsk said they would consider Putin's call to postpone the referendum.
There was still no word from the pro-Russian separatists in Luhansk, the other Ukrainian city where separatists planned to hold a referendum on self-determination.
The White House later responded to Putin's comments by saying the referendums should be canceled, not just postponed.
Both the White House and NATO also said they saw no evidence that any of the 40,000 Russian troops massed along Ukraine's border had been withdrawn.
With reporting by ITAR-TASS, Rossia-24 TV, Interfax, and Reuters