MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian parliament on Wednesday revoked the right it had granted President Vladimir Putin in March to order a military intervention in Ukraine, where Kiev is struggling with a rebellion by Russian speakers in the east.
A senior lawmaker said the move, which Putin had requested, should be seen as an act of goodwill to help facilitate peace efforts in Ukraine, where Moscow sees itself as the defender of the rights of the large Russian-speaking minority. But he said the authority could be reinstated at short notice.
“The President of the Russian Federation has enough means under the constitution and federal law to effectively influence the situation in Ukraine,” Viktor Ozerov, head of the Federation Council’s security committee, told the chamber.
“If, to that end, the president needs to take measures of a military nature, the Federation Council’s Defence and Security Committee is ready ... to swiftly consider such a motion from the president. But I hope that will not be required.”
The decision, effective immediately, was taken by 153 votes in favour to one against, with no abstentions.
Russia’s parliament rarely deviates from the line taken by Putin. After the vote, the speaker of the chamber asked whether the lawmaker who voted against had accidentally pressed the wrong button.
But his assertion of Russia’s responsibility to defend the rights of Ukraine’s Russian speakers, notably by annexing Crimea, have significantly boosted Putin’s wider popularity, helped by highly favourable reporting by state-controlled broadcasters.
A survey released by the Public Opinion Fund pollster - which says it has the presidential administration among its clients - on Wednesday showed several different indicators of support for Putin sharply up from mid-2013.
More than half of Russians believe Putin is doing a good job as president, versus 16 percent who expressed that view in April 2013, it said. It also found that two-thirds of respondents would like Putin to stay on as president for a fourth term when his current term ends in 2018. Just 14 percent were opposed.
Western powers have accused Russia of allowing pro-Russian fighters to cross into eastern Ukraine along with heavy weaponry to confront government forces, and have threatened to toughen existing sanctions if Moscow does not do more to end the conflict. [ID:nL6N0P628G]
Ukraine’s government has agreed a limited ceasefire with some of the Russian-speaking rebel groups to allow peace talks. However, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has threatened to end the truce early because of rebel attacks.
The ceasefire is supposed to last at least until Friday, when Kiev is due to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union at a summit where the bloc’s leaders may also consider tougher sanctions against Russia over Ukraine.
The drive to move closer to the EU faces strong opposition in Ukraine’s east - where historic ties with Russia are stronger than in the west - and was one of the factors that triggered the separatist rebellion.
Editing by Kevin Liffey and Janet Lawrence