Russia dismisses 'absurd' Ukraine peace plan put forward by Donald Trump's associates

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman dismisses proposal for Russia to ‘rent’ Crimea as new ceasefire begins

Lizzie Dearden
Tuesday 21 February 2017 10:20 GMT
Almost 10,000 people have been killed by fighting between the government and separatists in eastern Ukraine
Almost 10,000 people have been killed by fighting between the government and separatists in eastern Ukraine (Getty)

The Russian government has dismissed an “absurd” peace plan for Ukraine put forward by two of Donald Trump’s associates as a new ceasefire holds in the country.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson said he had not heard of the proposal, backed by a Ukrainian opposition politician, until he saw media reports.

The plan would entail Russian forces withdrawing from eastern Ukraine and Ukrainian voters deciding in a referendum whether Crimea would be “leased” to Russia for a term of 50 or 100 years.

But the Kremlin has repeated that it will not return the Black Sea peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, to Ukraine and insisted its status is not up for discussion.

​Dmitry Peskov, the Russian President’s spokesman, called the suggestion absurd and said: “There's nothing to talk about. How can Russia rent its own region from itself?”

The proposals were drawn up by opposition Ukrainian politician Andrii Artemenko and sent to Mr Trump’s personal lawyer Michael D Cohen and Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer who formerly advised the US President’s corporation.

Mr Artemenko’s pro-Russian opposition movement is being aided by Mr Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, the New York Times reported.

His proposals, which would lead to the lifting of sanctions, were delivered to Michael Flynn’s office in the White House before he was forced to resign from his post as national security advisor, Mr Cohen said.

Donald Trump is questioned over whether he ordered General Flynn to discuss sanctions with Russia

The proposals were revealed as a new ceasefire came into effect in Ukraine, where almost 10,000 people have been killed in the ongoing war between government forces and separatist rebels.

The conflict started in 2014 following Kiev’s “Maidan” protests, which ousted Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych, but sparked counter-demonstrations that escalated in eastern Ukraine.

A peace plan drawn up in 2015 in Minsk, Belarus, has been repeatedly violated by both sides, with escalating fighting prompting a new ceasefire attempt that came into effect on Monday.

Russia has denied allegations by the West and Nato of sending troops and weapons over the border, including the missile launcher that downed a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, but an executive order by Mr Putin has made its political support for the rebels clear.

He declared that all birth certificates and other documents issued by militant authorities in the self-declared “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk would be formally recognised by the Russian government, while offering all Ukrainian residents of the territories visa-free travel.

Ukraine’s ministry of foreign affairs condemned the move, saying it constituted “recognition of the Russia-controlled illegal authorities on the occupied Ukrainian territories of Donbas”.

“The Russian side has yet again violated Ukraine's state sovereignty and territorial integrity, Russia's international commitments, as well as the core idea and principles of the Minsk agreements,” a spokesperson added.

A German government spokesman said the move was “a stark contradiction to all that was agreed in Minsk” and “totally unacceptable” and France also voiced its opposition.

But the Russian government claimed the executive order was taken for humanitarian reasons, to facilitate the movement of refugees from separatist-controlled Ukraine into Russia, and complied with international law.

Mr Putin’s order was released hours after the American Vice President told an international conference the US would “hold Russia accountable” for its actions.

Mr Trump made a series of warm statements towards the Russian President during his campaign and has dismissed allegations of Kremlin interference in the election, but has adopted a more combative tone in recent days following international pressure over Ukraine.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War issued a report warning that recent “Russia manoeuvring” in Ukraine posed a growing risk to American interests.

“Russia may have assessed that it does not require a full-fledged separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine anymore, as it sees a political opportunity to force Kiev into accepting and legitimising the occupied territories of Donbas on Russia's terms,” researchers said.

“Putin continues setting conditions to advance his political objective of creating a pliable, pro-Russian, anti-Western Ukraine, and to shape how the West should respond to Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.”

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