July 27, 2018

U.S. ‘not considering’ Putin proposal for referendum in Ukraine’s east


The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump says it is “not considering supporting” a proposal made by Russian President Vladimir Putin during his summit with Mr. Trump to hold a referendum in regions of eastern Ukraine where an armed conflict is being waged against the Ukrainian government.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said on July 20 that organizing a “so-called referendum” would have “no legitimacy.” 

Shortly after the White House rejected conducting a referendum in eastern Ukraine, the Pentagon announced that it is providing an additional $200 million in security assistance to Ukraine to help it build its “defensive capacity.”

Earlier the same day, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said Messrs. Trump and Putin discussed “concrete proposals” for resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine during the summit in Helsinki on July 16.

Mr. Antonov spoke a day after Bloomberg quoted sources as saying that Mr. Putin told Russian diplomats he had proposed to Mr. Trump that a referendum be held in the region, where Russia-backed separatists hold parts of two oblasts.

“This issue was discussed,” the ambassador said, apparently referring to the conflict itself and not a proposal for a referendum. He said that “concrete proposals were made on how to resolve this issue,” but did not describe them.

Mr. Trump has said on Twitter that he and Mr. Putin discussed the situation in Ukraine at the July 16 summit in Helsinki, but he did not mention a potential referendum or provide any other details related to Ukraine.

The Bloomberg report cited two people who attended a closed-door speech by President Putin to Russian diplomats on July 19. The report said Mr. Putin told the diplomats he had agreed not to disclose the referendum plan publicly, in order to give President Trump time to consider it.

Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova declined to comment on Mr. Putin’s reported proposal for a referendum, saying on July 20 that it was beyond her competence to comment on details of the talks between the two presidents.

But she added that “if the global community, first and foremost the United States, has failed to make Kyiv implement the Minsk Agreements, then other options to resolve [the conflict] may be discussed.”

At a joint press conference with Mr. Trump following their talks in Helsinki, Mr. Putin repeated Russian calls for the United States to press Kyiv harder to implement the Minsk agreement.

U.S. officials have repeatedly said that Russia must do much more to implement the agreement and create conditions under which it could succeed.

The U.S. president’s special envoy on Ukraine, Kurt Volker said in January that there was “a very strong sense of disappointment and frustration in Washington that Russia has done absolutely nothing to end the conflict.”

With reporting by Bloomberg, AP, AFP, DPA, Interfax and TASS.

 Copyright 2018, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036; www.rferl.org (abridged from the story found at https://www.rferl.org/a/trump-putin-discussed-concrete-proposals-on-ukraine-envoy-says/29378363.html).