Russia and Ukraine: Putin’s gambit

IN SUSPENSE thrillers, timing is everything. Tension builds, music screeches, disaster looms—and suddenly there is a release. On May 7th Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, staged such a moment. Having stoked conflict, raised tension to breaking point and threatened invasion, he made a magnanimous concession. The bogus referendums on the independence of eastern parts of Ukraine may be postponed and a presidential election on May 25th may go ahead. And Russia would pull its troops back from the Ukrainian border.Mr Putin has got most of what he wanted. The annexation of Crimea has been accepted, serious economic sanctions have been averted, his popularity has shot up and, having created a mess in Ukraine, he is playing peacemaker. Nor did he give much away. The referendums were logistically impossible anyway. Yet his offer will push the Kiev government into talks with self-proclaimed separatists in the east and south of Ukraine. The negotiated release of Pavel Gubarev, a “people’s” governor of Donetsk arrested in March, will give the rebels legitimacy without any referendum.The orchestration of a threat, only to withdraw it, is the latest episode in the information…

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