Pro-Russia militants in eastern Ukraine say they will go ahead with referendums on establishing independent so-called "people's republics," despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's call Wednesday that the votes be delayed.
Representatives of pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions said Thursday that the referendums will be held on Sunday (May 11), as previously scheduled.
Russia's RIA Novosti state news agency quoted Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, as saying that the referendum there will ask residents to vote yes or no on whether they support a "proclamation of state independence of the Donetsk People's Republic."
Luhansk residents will be asked the same question regarding the so-called Luhansk People's Republic.
It is unclear whether the separatists would be able to organize a region-wide vote, and a recent poll showed 70 percent of the people in eastern Ukraine wanted to remain part of Ukraine.
Speaking Wednesday at the Kremlin, Mr. Putin recommended that separatists postpone Sunday's vote to create the necessary conditions for a "dialogue" between them and the Ukrainian government. He also suggested publicly for the first time that Ukraine's May 25 presidential election -- which had been the target of Kremlin scorn -- is "a move in the right direction."
Later Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the months-long Ukraine crisis could end and the May 25 presidential could be considered legitimate if the Kyiv government, in exchange for a delay in the secession vote, ended its military push against separatist strongholds in eastern Ukraine and entered into talks with them.
The secretary of Ukraine's national security and defense council, Andriy Parubiy, said Thursday that the government would continue its military offensive against the separatists.
Mr. Putin also said on Wednesday that Russian military units massed on the Ukraine border had pulled back from their forward positions. However, the White House, the Pentagon and NATO all said no immediate signs of a withdrawal had been detected.
NATO and the Pentagon have identified at least 40,000 Russian troops and armor poised on the border in recent weeks. The troops' presence has drawn widespread criticism from Kyiv and from Western governments, which see the deployment as a move to intimidate Ukraine that has heightened tensions across much of the country.