At Trump summit, Putin made 'concrete' Ukraine offer: envoy

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin has made Donald Trump a concrete offer on Ukraine, an ambassador said Friday, after reports that the Kremlin chief suggested a referendum in conflict-torn eastern Ukraine.

“This problem has been discussed, concrete proposals have been made on how to resolve this issue,” Russian Ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov said, referring to the four-year conflict. He declined to provide specifics at the meeting of experts and journalists in Moscow. Antonov spoke after Bloomberg reported Thursday that at the Helsinki summit Putin called for a referendum to be held with the help of international community in Ukraine’s breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which Russia-backed separatists control.

Citing officials who attended Putin’s closed-door meetings with Russian diplomats on Thursday, Bloomberg said Trump had asked Putin not to publicise the referendum idea after Monday’s summit to give the US leader time to consider it. Antonov however denied that Putin had made any secret deals with Trump at the summit which has unleashed a political firestorm in the United States.

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“The Russian side made several very serious proposals some of which were announced by Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) at the news conference,” Antonov said. “There were no secret agreements,” he added. “There were discussions on the Syrian topic, on Ukraine, concrete orders were given to experts to work in this area.”

After a Western-backed popular uprising in Kiev in 2014 ousted a Kremlin-backed regime, Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea and moved to support a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. Moscow made Crimea part of Russia after a hastily conducted referendum whose results were rejected by the international community. The Ukraine conflict, now half-forgotten by the West amid other crises and its own divisions, has claimed over 10,000 lives and still sees nearly daily clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian forces.

France and Germany helped broker the so-called Minsk agreements in 2015 but they are poorly observed and the peace process has essentially ground to a halt. Antonov on Friday accused the Ukrainian authorities of failing to honour the agreements.

“We should ask a question: is Minsk alive or not? If all the countries support the Minsk agreements then they need to be observed,” he said. Putin has repeatedly denied sending Russian troops across the border to buttress separatist forces, despite evidence to the contrary.

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