May 7 - Russian President Vladimir Putin calls on pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine to postpone a vote on secession just five days before it was to be held, potentially pulling Ukraine back from the brink of dismemberment. Mana Rabiee reports.
Postpone your referendum. That was the message from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to pro-Moscow separatists in neighboring Ukraine. They want to hold a vote on independence May 11th, potentially undermining national elections set for later in the month. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, SAYING: "We call on the representatives of southeastern Ukraine, the supporters of the federalization of the country, to postpone the referendum planned for May 11 this year." The U.S. and European Union had threatened Russia with tighter sanctions if it interfered with Ukraine's general election. Sunday's planned referendum was seen as a potential trigger for those sanctions. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, SAYING: "I want to underline that the planned presidential elections in Kiev are a move in the right direction but they won't solve anything if all of the citizens of Ukraine don't understand how their rights will be guaranteed after these elections are held." Russia's apparent sudden about face over the referendum could potentially pull Ukraine back from the brink of war. Putin also said he was pulling Russian troops back from the Ukrainian border. Some 40,000 have been stationed there for weeks, helping stoke the worst crisis between East and West since the Cold War. The rebels are seeking independence for two eastern provinces that make up about a third of Ukraine's industrial output. Overnight, they retook the city hall in Mariupol after Ukrainian forces briefly drove them out with tear gas. A separatist leader said rebels will consider Putin's request to postpone their vote. European mediators say they'll now try to hammer out a roadmap to solve the crisis in Ukraine.