President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke over the phone yesterday regarding the war going on between Ukraine's government and pro-Russian separatists in the country's eastern regions. Today, Putin made the surprising announcement that he will strip himself of the authority to intervene in the conflict. It's a move that will likely be met with cautious optimism.
The White House issued a statement on yesterday's talk:
President Obama welcomed [Ukrainian] President [Petro] Poroshenko's peace plan and urged that Russia and separatist leaders work closely with the Ukrainian government to take concrete steps to implement it. The President called upon President Putin to press the separatists to recognize and abide by the ceasefire and to halt the flow of weapons and materiel across its border into Ukraine. The President emphasized that words must be accompanied by actions and that the United States remains prepared to impose additional sanctions should circumstances warrant, in coordination with our allies and partners.
Indeed, just this past Friday the U.S. again expanded its list of individuals under economic sanctions for destabilizing Ukraine. Whether sanctions are having a meaningful impact is up for debate, though Russia's economy hasn't been so hot since the invasion and annexation of Crimea in March.
For his part, "Putin stressed that priority must be given to halting military operations and to the start of direct negotiations between the opposing sides," the Kremlin stated.
Today the Russian president made a request to the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, that they revoke his right to stage a military intervention in Ukraine. Tomorrow they will undoubtedly approve his request, just as they approved his request for that questionable authority several months ago.
Although Ukraine's president welcomes Putin's move as a "first practical step," skepticism remains with good reason. After all, Russia last week began to regroup thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border, less than a month after promising to remove troops. And, the separatists, some of whom claim to be Chechen mercenaries on official orders, have an uncanny ability to get their hands on tanks, rocket launchers, and other military equipment, and earlier today they broke a ceasefire they agreed to several days ago.
Putin's former chief economic adviser and current Cato Institute fellow Andrei Illarionov argued yesterday that Putin is, in fact, sending militants into even more regions of the nation as part of "a new stage to undermine the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine."