DONETSK, Ukraine — The pro-Russia insurgency in eastern Ukraine decided Thursday to go ahead with Sunday's referendum on autonomy despite a call from Russian President Vladimir Putin to delay it.
While Putin's call Wednesday to postpone the vote was seen as part of an effort to step back from confrontation and negotiate a deal with the West, he fueled tensions again Thursday by overseeing military exercises that Russian news agencies said simulated a retaliatory nuclear strike in response to an enemy attack.
Putin said the exercise involving Russia's nuclear forces had been planned back in November. But it came as relations between Russia and the West have plunged to their lowest point since the Cold War.
On the ground in Ukraine, many have feared that the referendum could be a flashpoint for further violence between Ukrainian troops and the pro-Russia militants who have seized government buildings in about a dozen cities in the east.
The decision to hold the vote as planned was unanimous, said Denis Pushilin, co-chairman of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic.