Putin’s promises


New steps by Russian President Vladimir Putin, if he delivers on them, could lead to reduced East-West tensions and conflict over Ukraine.

Mr. Putin said last week that Russian forces along the Ukraine border had been withdrawn, that he did not favor a weekend referendum on eastern Ukraine’s future that pro-Russian Ukrainians have set, and that he would support — with conditions — the May 25 presidential election scheduled by Ukraine.

His good faith in carrying out these pledges is susceptible to Western surveillance. The United States has been monitoring what Mr. Putin has been doing with the Russian troops on Ukraine’s border. Pentagon and North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials said late last week they had seen no sign of the promised withdrawal.

Last Sunday’s referendum in eastern Ukraine, which was to determine whether parts of it will stay with the Kiev government, secede, or choose — like Crimea — to join Russia lacked broad or firm support in that region in any case.

The May 25 election announced by Kiev has been questionable, given not only the insecurity in eastern Ukraine but also the shaky status of the new government that would run the vote. Even supporters of Ukraine disagree on the election’s usefulness.

The Kiev government has dubious legitimacy, having ousted a democratically elected president in a street-level coup. The election could give it the authority that it lacks. But it is hard to see how balloting held under Ukraine’s present conditions could be considered legitimate. Postponement probably makes sense.

If Mr. Putin fulfills his pledges, it will be incumbent on the United States and Western Europe to reciprocate. That could mean throttling back on some economic sanctions and winding down military actions in neighboring Poland and the Baltic nations.

If both sides play ball, the chances of reducing global conflict over Ukraine will grow — a desirable outcome for peace and cooperation.