Has Putin pulled military back from Ukraine border?

posted at 12:01 pm on May 7, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Color me … skeptical. While Vladimir Putin remains under pressure from the West through limited economic sanctions, his ambitions in eastern Ukraine could hardly be going better. He’s on the verge of pushing the former Soviet republic into the kind of collapse that Russia could use as a pretext for occupation. Why would Putin pull back now?

Still, that’s what Putin himself claims:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said Wednesday that Russian troops had pulled back from the Ukraine border, and he urged separatists in eastern Ukraine to postpone a referendum planned for Sunday.

“We were told constantly about concerns over our troops near the Ukrainian border,” Mr. Putin said after meeting with Didier Burkhalter, the president of Switzerland and current head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “We have pulled them back. Today they are not at the Ukrainian border but in places of regular exercises, at training grounds.”

Russia positioned 40,000 troops on the Ukrainian border soon after protesters in Kiev pushed President Viktor F. Yanukovych from power on Feb. 28. Mr. Putin’s willingness to send Russian forces under cover into Crimea and his subsequent annexation of the peninsula raised fears that he might do the same in southeastern Ukraine.

Reuters calls this a “potential breakthrough”:

Russian President Vladimir Putin called 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.

It was the first sign the Kremlin leader has given that he would not endorse a referendum planned for Sunday by pro-Russian rebels seeking independence for two provinces with 6.5 million people and around a third of Ukraine’s industrial output.

In what appeared to be a breakthrough in the worst crisis between East and West since the Cold War, Putin also announced he was pulling Russian troops back from the Ukrainian border. Moscow has massed tens of thousands of troops on the frontier, proclaiming the right to invade Ukraine if Russian speakers were threatened.

Putin’s call to postpone the referendum is essentially meaningless. There was no way to conduct a referendum this weekend anyway. In Crimea, the Russians had taken over the civic institutions and imposed their own version of security. That’s not the case in eastern Ukraine; the city of Mariupol has changed hands at least twice in the last 24 hours. The same is true of Putin’s support for the May 25th election, for that matter. Like I wrote earlier, the practical impossibility of holding an election in the middle of a sectarian civil war would sap any credibility from the results. Putin can talk about the election all he wants, but as long as Russian provocateurs continue their work, he knows it will never take place, or at worst never be taken seriously.

That brings us back to the troop withdrawal. That could be significant … if in fact it has happened. Has anyone on the ground verified that the Russian units have returned to their regular positions? So far, all of the news reports on the withdrawal have one source: Vladimir Putin. Even if Putin pulled back, it wouldn’t take much work to redeploy to the border again, and everyone in Ukraine knows it.

Color NATO skeptical, too:

What are Russians saying about this, anyway? Thanks to a new “bloggers law” from Putin, they’re only effectively saying what Putin wants them to say:

Russia has taken another major step toward restricting its once freewheeling Internet, as President Vladimir V. Putin quietly signed a new law requiring popular online voices to register with the government, a measure that lawyers, Internet pioneers and political activists said Tuesday would give the government a much wider ability to track who said what online.

Mr. Putin’s action on Monday, just weeks after he disparaged the Internet as “a special C.I.A. project,” borrowed a page from the restrictive Internet playbooks of many governments around the world that have been steadily smothering online freedoms they once tolerated. …

Widely known as the “bloggers law,” the new Russian measure specifies that any site with more than 3,000 visitors daily will be considered a media outlet akin to a newspaper and be responsible for the accuracy of the information published.

Besides registering, bloggers can no longer remain anonymous online, and organizations that provide platforms for their work such as search engines, social networks and other forums must maintain computer records on Russian soil of everything posted over the previous six months.

“This law will cut the number of critical voices and opposition voices on the Internet,” said Galina Arapova, director of the Mass Media Defense Center and an expert on Russian media law. “The whole package seems quite restrictive and might affect harshly those who disseminate critical information about the state, about authorities, about public figures.”

Putin may not be a credible source — but he wants to make himself the only source in Russia. It looks more and more like Russia is entering a new “pivotal experiment.”


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Obama to speak to the nation later today about having made Putin back off.

30 mins later, Putin will invade Ukraine.

You know this will happen. Putin lives inside Obama’s head rent free.

BobMbx on May 7, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Headfake

Putin plays chess against the lilliputian in the WH.

No doubt boy obama and horsehead Kerry will fall for it.

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2014 at 12:11 PM

Does he really need troops on the border, he has already filled Ukraine with instigators.

Sven on May 7, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Foolish American’s are worrying about Putin, when they should be worried about what the Obama Administration is and has been up to. Stupid American’s are destroying America, and with it the entire rest of the world.

oscarwilde on May 7, 2014 at 12:13 PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine to postpone a vote on secession just five days before it was to be held,

IOW, “Hey guys, I already got this Ukraine thing in the bag.”

Harbingeing on May 7, 2014 at 12:15 PM

oscarwilde on May 7, 2014 at 12:13 PM

Not to worry. The NSA programs are designed to catch this sort of stuff, and prevent people from being killed.

BobMbx on May 7, 2014 at 12:16 PM

Obama to speak to the nation later today about having made Putin back off.

30 mins later, Putin will invade Ukraine.

You know this will happen. Putin lives inside Obama’s head rent free.

BobMbx on May 7, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Obama will not be able to resist football spiking for sure.

ConstantineXI on May 7, 2014 at 12:16 PM

oscarwilde on May 7, 2014 at 12:13 PM

Not to worry. The NSA programs are designed to catch this sort of stuff, and prevent people from being killed.

BobMbx on May 7, 2014 at 12:16 PM

Yea… that leaves me feeling sooo secure… NOT…

oscarwilde on May 7, 2014 at 12:19 PM

It’s possible, for now, that Putin is backing off because Ukrainian forces are actually fighting back.

OldEnglish on May 7, 2014 at 12:22 PM

Why just have two provinces vote for seccession if you can take the whole country?

KW64 on May 7, 2014 at 12:25 PM

Saddam Hussein pulled troops out of Kuwayt twice, IIRC.

JFKY on May 7, 2014 at 12:27 PM

Putin is playing Lucy again!

Sven on May 7, 2014 at 12:28 PM

Putin doesn’t want a vote on May 25, or works do illegitimate it.

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2014 at 12:32 PM

If there wouldn’t be so much misery in the Ukraine, I’d laugh all day at obama/Kerry.

Lavrov is simply superior to both.

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2014 at 12:33 PM

Putin is a commie who wants to bring back a dead empire.

Communism always fails. Only a matter of time

weedisgood on May 7, 2014 at 12:35 PM

Schadenfreude I’ve met hamsters that were smarter than Kerry or Obama, at least as it comes to understanding predators.

JFKY on May 7, 2014 at 12:36 PM

…he’s just giving JugEars and JugHead a chance to make asses of themselves…again!

KOOLAID2 on May 7, 2014 at 12:38 PM

Obama to speak to the nation later about enacting a new law Executive Order to require accuracy in reporting for any web site with over 3,000 daily visitors. He cheered Putin’s truth referendum and later commented that he hoped this move would reset relations with Russia’s Putin.

/sarc

dominigan on May 7, 2014 at 12:40 PM

JFKY on May 7, 2014 at 12:36 PM

:)

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2014 at 12:42 PM

Putin desperately trying to save face, forced into hamhanded attempts at quelling dissent amongst his own media and people, showing the world that he simply doesn’t understand how the world works anymore.

This is going to go down as one of the stupidest unforced errors in geopolitical histiry.

everdiso on May 7, 2014 at 12:49 PM

Russia has taken another major step toward restricting its once freewheeling Internet, as President Vladimir V. Putin quietly signed a new law requiring popular online voices to register with the government, a measure that lawyers, Internet pioneers and political activists said Tuesday would give the government a much wider ability to track who said what online.

Thinkpol and Minitrue vant to know vut you write online. You vill love Big Brother!!!

Steve Z on May 7, 2014 at 12:51 PM

The part that is missing in Ed’s article is that Russia will require ALL social networks (that includes Facebook and others) to store information about their Russian subscribers on servers in Russia so that this information would be available to Russian “law enforcement”. I will be interesting to see if Facebook and other companies will comply with this demand.

PBH on May 7, 2014 at 12:53 PM

Putin desperately trying to save face, forced into hamhanded attempts at quelling dissent amongst his own media and people, showing the world that he simply doesn’t understand how the world works anymore.

This is going to go down as one of the stupidest unforced errors in geopolitical histiry.

everdiso on May 7, 2014 at 12:49 PM

In your alternate reality, Putin is enjoying a spike in popularity along with their stock market and the Ruble has also gained. Putin doesn’t understand how the world works, really? he has managed to punk the majority of our world leaders.

Sven on May 7, 2014 at 12:55 PM

How many Spetsnaz brigades are already there?

formwiz on May 7, 2014 at 12:57 PM

Also, a reminder… Putin is inside Ukraine. Remember Crimea? Hello?

PBH on May 7, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Putin desperately trying to save face, forced into hamhanded attempts at quelling dissent amongst his own media and people, showing the world that he simply doesn’t understand how the world works anymore.

This is going to go down as one of the stupidest unforced errors in geopolitical histiry.

everdiso on May 7, 2014 at 12:49 PM

Error by whom? Putin’s troops walked into Crimea unopposed, and nobody lifted a finger to stop him. He now SAYS he pulled the troops away from the Ukrainian border, but no Western observers can confirm this, so his troops await his orders to take over eastern Ukraine.

Putin is a despicable thug and dictator, but he is an excellent strategist–much better than our naïve current Administration.

Steve Z on May 7, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Just wait for it. Putin could be pulling an Obama – say what they want to hear, then do what you want to do.

RayBacliff on May 7, 2014 at 1:05 PM

The part that is missing in Ed’s article is that Russia will require ALL social networks (that includes Facebook and others) to store information about their Russian subscribers on servers in Russia so that this information would be available to Russian “law enforcement”. I will be interesting to see if Facebook and other companies will comply with this demand.

PBH on May 7, 2014 at 12:53 PM

How does Snowden feel about this?

weedisgood on May 7, 2014 at 1:06 PM

How does Snowden feel about this?

weedisgood on May 7, 2014 at 1:06 PM

However Putin has told him to feel Comrade.

Sven on May 7, 2014 at 1:30 PM

How does Snowden feel about this?

weedisgood on May 7, 2014 at 1:06 PM
However Putin has told him to feel Comrade.

Sven on May 7, 2014 at 1:30 PM

told him HOW to feel, fixed.

Sven on May 7, 2014 at 1:50 PM

Putin may not be a credible source

Yes, we should not listen to a single thing he says and always go with what our very honest President and his very honest SecState and the other very honest members of his very honest administration say about this and all other matters.

but he wants to make himself the only source in Russia.

Right again! Our President would never do that in America or anywhere else!

It looks more and more like Russia is entering a new “pivotal experiment.”

One of fundamental transformation?

VorDaj on May 7, 2014 at 1:55 PM

Rubbish. Russian soldiers aren’t pulled back from the border. Equally, 800 heavily armed (and trained) pro Russian demonstrators don’t magically show up in Odessa and fight the Ukrainian security forces through coincidence.

leader4hru on May 7, 2014 at 2:09 PM

No change

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2014 at 2:37 PM

This is going to go down as one of the stupidest unforced errors in geopolitical histiry.

everdiso on May 7, 2014 at 12:49 PM

Anther HA classic

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2014 at 2:39 PM

In their own way, some Ukrainians are getting ready.

I wish good luck and God’s speed.

CPT. Charles on May 7, 2014 at 3:50 PM

Rubbish. Russian soldiers aren’t pulled back from the border. Equally, 800 heavily armed (and trained) pro Russian demonstrators don’t magically show up in Odessa and fight the Ukrainian security forces through coincidence.

leader4hru on May 7, 2014 at 2:09 PM

Yep. Those pro-Russian ‘demonstrators’ are so well armed you’d almost think they are Libyans.

slickwillie2001 on May 7, 2014 at 4:02 PM

How many Spetsnaz brigades are already there?

formwiz on May 7, 2014 at 12:57 PM

Have you seen the physical condition of the Russian troops there? I’ve never seen so many fat soldiers.

Also, if you watch the early confrontations between Russians and unarmed Ukrainian soldiers, the Russians are panicky and have all placed each other in the crossfire of their pals.

You might find this hard to believe, but NATO could whack Russia’s you-know-what extremely effectively. Russian training is horrible.

Look at this German Panzergrenadier. While we weren’t looking, the German army fielded cyborgs.

http://www.thomaswictor.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Panzergrenadier.jpg

A Chair of Some Kind on May 7, 2014 at 4:07 PM

Foolish American’s are worrying about Putin, when they should be worried about what the Obama Administration is and has been up to. Stupid American’s are destroying America, and with it the entire rest of the world.

oscarwilde on May 7, 2014 at 12:13 PM

Yeah why worry about Putin or North Korea when Obama is at large destroying the entire world. You are the foolish one.

lexhamfox on May 7, 2014 at 4:22 PM