Pro-Russian separatist leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk say they will continue with referendums on self-determination on May 11 despite calls by Russian President Vladimir Putin
to postpone them.
A "coordinating committee" of the self-declared "Donetsk People's Republic" said after a meeting in a seized Ukrainian government building in the city of Donetsk on May 8 that it would hold a vote on whether to secede from Ukraine on May 11.
Putin had said in Moscow on May 7 that the separatist movements in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions should delay the holding of such referendums.
Oleksiy Chmylenko, a self-styled leader of the Luhansk separatist forces, told the Interfax news agency on May 8 that the "people's assembly of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic" had decided to go ahead with its independence referendum on May 11.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin is analyzing the decision by the separatist groups in eastern Ukraine.
Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, said the referendums "should not take place neither on May 11 or any other later date."
She added that the polls would have "no democratic legitimacy and can only lead to further escalation" of the crisis in Ukraine.
The decisions to hold the referendums came after Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Andriy Parubiy said the "antiterrorist operation" will proceed even if the separatist leaders decided to postpone the votes.
Ukrainian forces have retaken in recent days some of the many government offices captured by the separatists in about 12 cities in eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, in Warsaw, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance has not noticed a Russian pullback of forces from the Ukrainian border, as Putin has claimed.
Rasmussen said early on May 8 after meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk that "so far we haven't seen any indications that they are pulling back their troops."
Rasmussen made the statement after the Russian Foreign Ministry suggested he had "a blind eye" for not noticing the withdrawal.
Rasmussen said: "I have very good vision."
Tusk added that "we should approach President Putin's statement with great caution."
Putin said on May 7 that some of the estimated 40,000 Russian troops massed on Ukraine's border had returned to their training grounds.
With reporting by Interfax, Reuters, AFP