MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to take steps Wednesday to pull Ukraine back from an escalating cycle of violence, asking pro-Russian separatists in the country to postpone a Sunday referendum on independence and indicating that he may be willing to recognize a national election later this month.

The effort marked a significant shift in tone from the hard line that Putin and other top Russian officials have taken for months toward Ukraine’s acting government in Kiev, which took power after pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled in February in the face of popular protests. But key questions remained over whether Putin’s efforts would actually rein in violence, including whether Russia retained control over the bands of armed separatists who have taken over cities across eastern Ukraine.

“All of us are interested in settling this crisis, in settling it as soon as possible, accounting for the interests of all Ukrainian citizens irrespective of their place of residence,” Putin said in Moscow alongside Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, who is leading negotiations as chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Putin said that putting off the referendum about whether to establish independence from Kiev would help create the “necessary conditions of dialogue” with the acting central government.

Putin’s statements came after a week of escalating violence as Ukrainian authorities attempted to regain control over the east, largely without success.