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The referendum, as written, simply asks, “Do you support the act of proclamation of independent sovereignty for the Donetsk People’s Republic?”

Denis Pushilin, chief of the pro-Russia activists elections commission, said Wednesday he was confident that the vote would proceed.

“We are certain that people are fully familiar with the issues,” he said.

Despite Mr. Putin’s words Wednesday, the West’s efforts to de-escalate the situation through economic sanctions have had little impact and may have strengthened the Russian leader’s hand at home, Mr. Kuchins said.

“The Russian economy was already at zero growth. So now, as we sanction him, he flips that in his favor and says ‘our economy is suffering because of what the Europeans and Americans are doing.’ It works perfectly for his domestic political narrative,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.