Putin announced on 7 May that he considered the planned 25 May presidential election in Kyiv to be 'a step in the right direction' and called upon the separatists in Donetsk to postpone the referendum they have planned for next Sunday, 11 May. This seems to be a drastic change of direction compared to the daily discourse of foreign minister Lavrov who has been been trying to prevent the 25 May election from happening and discredting its legitimacy in advance should it go ahead. And this is also the first time Putin or Lavrov have publicly urged restraint on the pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine.
It may be no coincidence that Putin spoke just hours after release by the Ukrainian authorities of a tapped phone conversation between O. Barkashov of the Russian National Unity Movement in Moscow and D. Boitsov of the Orthodox Donbass Organisation, the latter being organiser of the referendum scheduled for Sunday (http://bit.ly/1kKN0GR). The conversation is about how Boitsov should get on with the job of fixing a 99% or at least 89% result for Donetck Republic independence. Mr Barkashov seems to be in a position to direct these matters from Moscow, although he is not part of the Kremlin, just part of the radical Russian nationalist bubble in Moscow. The conversation is marked by an extreme vulgarity of language on both sides, with an abundance of expletives which translated into English might even raise the eyebrows of, say, an East London rubbish collector.
What to make of all this? With or without this colouful phone tap, Putin may have come to the conclusion that the situation in Ukraine was spiraliing out of anyone's control, and becoming extremely dangerous for all, including Russia. If so this seems to be an entirely rational, objective assessment. But still it is only a few words, not a full presentation of a readiness to work towards a civilized resolution of the Ukraine crisis. He must know that Russia has now made an enemy of itself for much of Ukraine, which will take a very long time to heal. Better for him to draw the line on separatist tendencies, and work with the next president of Ukraine and the EU towards a regime in which Ukriane could have at least good relations with both its big neighbours. He may consider the probable next president, Petro Poroshenko, to be a man that both he and the EU could do business with, after their dreadful experiences with the incompetent, corrupt and untrustworthy Yanukovic.