(Adds more on background of Ukraine conflict)
By Kevin Liffey
MOSCOW, June 24 President Vladimir Putin asked
Russia's upper house on Tuesday to revoke the right it had
granted him to order a military intervention in Ukraine in
defence of Russian-speakers there, the Kremlin said in a
The step seemed certain to be welcomed by the West as a sign
that Moscow was ready to help engineer a settlement in
Ukraine's largely Russian-speaking east, where a pro-Russian
uprising against Kiev began in April.
Putin's spokesman said the Kremlin leader's move was aimed
at assisting fledgling peace talks, which began on Monday, to
end the conflict.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called it a "first
practical step" following Putin's statement of support last
weekend for Poroshenko's peace plan for eastern Ukraine.
Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, said Russia now
expected Kiev to respond with measures of its own, without
specifying what these should be.
In the March 1 resolution, the Federation Council had
granted Putin the right to "use the Russian Federation's Armed
Forces on the territory of Ukraine until the social and
political situation in that country normalises".
That resolution, together with Russia's annexation of Crimea
from Ukraine, helped push East-West relations to their lowest
ebb since the Cold War and led the United States and Europe to
impose sanctions on Moscow.
European Union foreign ministers on Monday held out the
prospect of further sanctions if Russia did not do more to
support a peace process in eastern Ukraine, and also asked it to
revoke the March 1 resolution.
Since then, rebels in eastern Ukraine have agreed to a
temporary ceasefire to give time for peace talks in a forum
where Russia is represented alongside the Kiev government and
the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Poroshenko's welcome for Putin's move was tempered by his
announcement that one Ukrainian serviceman had been killed and
seven others wounded in what he said were eight ceasefire
violations by rebels overnight into Tuesday.
Russian shares rose strongly, with the dollar-denominated
RTS index up 2.5 percent at levels not seen since
mid-January, before the Ukraine crisis flared up in earnest.
The rouble was up 0.8 percent against the dollar,
which fell below 34 roubles for the first time since January.
"The president has filed a proposal to the Federation
Council on cancelling ... the resolution on the use of Russia's
Armed Forces on the territory of Ukraine," the Kremlin said in a
statement on its website.
Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko said the
chamber would discuss Putin's request on Wednesday.
The deputy head of the chamber's international affairs
committee, Andrei Klimov, said he expected the resolution to
pass, according to the RIA Novosti agency.
Russia has already pulled back tens of thousands of troops
that it had moved close to border earlier in the crisis, adding
to Western fears that it was ready to follow its forcible
annexation of majority-Russian Crimea with intervention in its
Those troops had also provided an unspoken threat to support
the well-equipped but sometimes poorly coordinated rebels in
eastern Ukraine against government forces trying to wrest back
the towns and administration buildings they had seized.
Like many of eastern Ukraine's Russian speakers, Moscow was
infuriated by the toppling in January of President Viktor
Yanukovich after he pulled out of an association agreement with
the EU in favour of closer ties with Moscow.
Russia denies Kiev's charges that it has helped foment the
separatist unrest and knowingly allowed military equipment to
cross into Ukraine or built up forces along the 1,900 km (1,200
mile) joint border.
However, the election last month of billionaire businessman
Poroshenko as president appears at least to have reduced fears
in Moscow and eastern Ukraine that the country was being run by
far-right nationalists ready to trample over the rights of the
large Russian-speaking minority in the east.
Since then, the rebels have been gradually losing ground in
a conflict where scores have been killed on both sides.
Russia's Foreign Ministry accused the EU on Tuesday of
taking a biased view of the crisis in Ukraine. It said the EU
had conveniently ignored the fact that Kiev's military action
had caused the deaths of tens of children and driven thousands
of civilians to continue to seek refuge on Russian territory.
On Friday, Poroshenko is set to sign a free trade agreement
with the European Union - the very pact that Yanukovich rejected
in January under heavy pressure from Russia, which had wanted
Ukraine's 45 million people to join its own Eurasian Economic
Russia is certain to respond by raising trade barriers to
Ukrainian exports in order to protect its markets, adding
further strain to an economic relationship already badly soured
by Ukraine's refusal to accept an increase in the price of
Russian gas, imposed after Yanukovich was toppled.
Russia's Gazprom has now cut off the gas, and its
CEO Alexei Miller repeated on Tuesday in Vienna that it must
settle $1.95 billion of its debt and pay up front for future
supplies before the taps could be reopened.
(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel and Gabriela Baczynska,
writing by Kevin Liffey; editing by Ralph Boulton)