Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the Ukraine presidential election on May 25 is not technically, legally possible.
He added though, “that any political process is… better than armed confrontation”, referring to the “anti-terror” operations against pro-Russian activists in eastern Ukraine.
President Putin stated that the Ukrainian constitution does not allow for the upcoming presidential election.
“In this context, in my view, given that the Ukrainian constitution still legally in force at this moment does not make it possible to hold an election when the country has a president, President Yanukovych, still legally in office–and I stress that in legal terms he is still the president in office–“.
Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from office back in February following months of protest in the country’s capital, Kiev, that resulted in over 100 deaths.
An interim government then took over, but Russia has refused to recognize it as legitimate.
Mr. Putin said that given the current situation in Ukraine, “it would seem easier… to first hold a referendum on all the basic issues, hold a referendum on the constitution and adopt it, and then on the basis of the new constitution elect a president and a parliament and form a government.”
The president believes that his idea “would be a lot more logical and would bring greater stability” in Ukraine, but the Ukrainian government has already decided, with the support of the EU and US, to hold its presidential elections.
However, he said that “what is important is not the election itself, but to organize relations with all of Ukraine’s regions so that people, whether in the west, south, east, or north of the country all feel that they are full-fledged citizens, and so that ethnic minorities have full rights as citizens, including the right to use their native language.”
The interim Ukrainian government had previously banned the use of Russian language. Moscow then stepped in and stated its right to intervene in Ukraine to protect the rights of the Russian speaking population there, which led to the annexation of Crimea by Russian in March.
Either way, “the political processes underway, including on legitimizing the current authorities, are a positive steps”, but “it will be very difficult for us [the Russian Federation] to build relations with those came to power with punitive operations still underway in southeast Ukraine, and who obstruct the media’s work,” Mr. Putin said.
His remarks are in reference to the recent “anti-terror” military operations issued by Kiev against gunmen in eastern Ukraine, as well as the detainment of two Russian journalist, who allegedly were transporting weapons, and a British reporter, who was freelancing for Russia Today, by Ukrainian military forces.
President Putin stated that the Kiev government is “not just obstructing the press but they are behaving more and more aggressively.” And that “What is happening now with journalists in unacceptable.”
He hopes that “the Ukrainian authorities will take the necessary steps to at least humanize the political process unfolding in Ukraine now.”
Mr. Putin also stressed Russia’s goal towards helping to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine, saying: “Our position at the moment is to establish direct contacts with the current authorities in Kiev and in southeast Ukraine.” He added, “we have done everything we can to establish these direct contacts.”
Russian Troops along its shared border with Ukraine
Earlier this week, President Putin ordered the withdraw of Russian forces from its border with Ukraine.
Moscow has twice before called for the withdraw of its forces from the Russian-Ukrainian border.
Mr. Putin told reporters: “Our forces were not on the border anyway. They were indeed quite close to the border, as you probably heard. Some time ago, I gave the Defense Ministry the order to withdraw them to the training sites, the test grounds. These sites are also in neighboring regions, in Rostov Region, quite near the border. But now the Defense Ministry has received a new order to withdraw them from these test grounds too.”
He stressed that Russia is “not doing this because we do not dare to keep our forces in those regions” but “as an additional step” to help make the upcoming Ukrainian presidential election “a more favorable environment”.
Putin countered a statement by NATO that it had seen no withdraw of Russian forces along the Ukrainian-Russian border, saying: “If someone cannot see what is happening there, perhaps they should take a closer look. The fact of the matter is that there is quite a large number of forces there [along the border], quite a lot of hardware. Just withdrawing all of them requires some serious preparation in itself, including organizing their transportation. But I think that with good weather, they soon will be able to see all of this from space.”
Preventing a Repeat of the Odessa Violence
In response to the final question by reporters, the Russian President stated his belief “that the nightmare and horror that we saw on our TV screens, the events we know well that took place in Odessa, have not yet received adequate assessment from the international community.”
Over 40 were killed when violent clashes broke out between pro-Unity and pro-Russian activists in the seaside port city of Odessa a few weeks ago.
Majority of those who were killed died when pro-Unity activist lit on fire the Trade Union building that pro-Russians were taking cover inside of.
President Putin warned the international community that “if we do not make an adequate assessment of events, it is possible that similar crimes could happen again.
“I want to draw this to the attention of the media, the Russian public, and our human rights organisations too. There should without question be a thorough investigations and the criminals should be caught and punished.
“We should all work towards this results, because if this not done, as I said, we could see a repeat of the horror and nightmare we saw in Odessa, and this would create fertile soil for terrorism to emerge.”