Russian president Vladimir Putin has asked parliament to cancel a resolution sanctioning the use of military force in Ukraine, a move his Ukrainian counterpart heralded as a “practical step” towards peace.
Mr Putin’s announcement came after pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine said they would respect a ceasefire declared by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, raising hopes for an end to months of fighting.
A statement on the Kremlin website said Mr Putin had asked the head of Russia’s upper house of parliament to cancel his March 1 request authorising the use of force on Ukrainian territory. The chamber is expected to quickly rubber-stamp the move today.
Mr Putin needs to show his support for Mr Poroshenko’s peace plan ahead of a European Union summit on Friday to avoid further Western sanctions. The EU has warned it could introduce another round of sanctions that would target entire sectors of the Russian economy if Moscow failed to help de-escalate the crisis.
EU diplomats said Russia’s actions appear finely calibrated to just fall short of the threshold that would trigger retaliatory economic measures by the trade bloc that would really bite.
At the same time, Mr Putin might feel he no longer needs to maintain the threat of an invasion to protect Moscow’s interests in Ukraine.
Mr Poroshenko’s peace plan contains promises of decentralisation and guarantees for protection of rights of Russian speakers, which Russia has demanded from the start of the crisis.
It wants Ukraine to give broad powers to its regions to allow Russian-speaking eastern provinces to maintain close ties with Moscow. Strong regional autonomy would also allow them to effectively block the nation’s accession into Nato.
Mr Putin’s request to parliament for the use of military in Ukraine came days after Ukraine’s pro-Russian president was chased from power following months of street protests.