Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump discussed the possibility of a referendum in separatist-leaning eastern Ukraine during their infamousHelsinki summit, Russia’s ambassador to the US said yesterday.
However, the White House said later that it is not considering supporting the idea.
Ambassador Anatoly Antonov revealed the discussions amid confusion and concern in the US about what the two world leaders actually agreed upon behind closed doors.
“This issue was discussed,” he said, adding that Putin made “concrete proposals” to Trump on solutions for the four-year, Russian-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 10,000 people.
He did not elaborate on what Putin’s solutions would be.
The discussion could be seen as an effort to sidestep European peace efforts for Ukraine and increase the pressure on the Ukrainian government in its protracted conflict with proRussian separatists in the Donbass region.
Later in the day, US National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said “The administration is not considering supporting a referendum in eastern Ukraine.”
“To organise a so-called referendum in a part of Ukraine which is not under government control would have no legitimacy,” he said.
Trump tweeted that the two leaders had discussed Ukraine, but had not mentioned a referendum or revealed specifics of the talks with Putin. He also found time to make a customary attack on the press, tweeting: “I got severely criticized by the Fake News Media for being too nice to President Putin. In the Old Days they would call it Diplomacy. If I was loud & vicious, I would have been criticized for being too tough. Remember when they said I was too tough with Chairman Kim? Hypocrites!”
The US and Russia have been on opposing sides of the conflict in Ukraine, which was unleashed after a popular uprising in 2014 against Ukraine’s proRussian president and Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula a month later.
Ukraine’s government didn’t immediately respond to the developments but former Foreign Minister Konstantin Grishchenko said, “Kiev will never agree to a referendum in the Donbass initiated by Russia.”
“The Kremlin already used a referendum as justification for annexing Crimea.,” he said on the 112.ua television network.
International powers did not recognise the Crimean referendum that preceded Russia’s annexation. Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions also held referendums in 2014 that were not recognised by Ukraine’s government.