Putin to Ukraine:Begin Immediate Talks 08/31 11:50
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called on Ukraine to immediately
start talks on a political solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called on
Ukraine to immediately start talks on a political solution to the crisis in
Putin's comment, made to national TV network Channel 1 and reported by
Russian news agencies after they were broadcast in Russia's Far East, said
Ukraine should "hold substantive, meaningful talks, not about technical issues
but about the question of the political organization of society and statehood
in southeast Ukraine, with the goal of safeguarding the legitimate interests of
those people who live there."
Despite the use of the word "statehood, Putin did not envision sovereignty
for the two separatist eastern regions that style themselves as "Novorossiya"
(New Russia ), his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later, according to a Russian
Russia previously has called for talks between the central government and
the separatist rebels in the east, which Ukrainian forces have been fighting
since April and Russia has pushed for federalization that would devolve more
powers to the regions.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko released a peace plan in June that
proposed an unspecified level of decentralization of executive powers and
budgetary matters. But rebels so have rejected any talks unless Ukrainian
forces halt their offensive.
Rebel representatives couldn't immediately be reached Sunday and
Poroshenko's spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, said he had no immediate comment.
Although Kiev and Western countries allege Russia has sent in troops and
equipment to bolster the pro-Russia rebels, Moscow firmly rejects the
accusations and distances itself from suggestions that it can wield influence
on the rebels. Last week, after his first extensive meeting with Poroshenko,
Putin rejected any suggestion that Russia could be involved in negotiating a
cease-fire in the conflict, which has killed nearly 2,600 people according to
the United Nations.
Putin said Ukraine should stop the offensive.
"If anybody believes that in a situation where the cities and villages of
east Ukraine come under direct fire that the militiamen will have no reaction
to that, but will simply wait for the promised talks, then these people are
prisoner to some illusions," he said.
The Russian leader's statement comes as Ukrainian forces battle against
newly strengthened resistance from the rebels. After making gains in recent
weeks, Ukraine has been forced to pull out of several towns over the past week.
In addition, rebels have opened a new front along the southeast Azov Sea coast
which could indicate the intention to establish a land bridge between Russia
and the Crimean Peninsula that Russia annexed in March.
Ukraine says Russian tanks and troops took part in the move against the
coast and NATO claims there are at least 1,000 Russian troops in Ukraine.
This week, Ukraine seized 10 Russian soldiers well inside the country. On
Sunday, Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the national security council,
said nine of them had been given back to Russia in exchange for 63 Ukrainian
"Ukraine has made a step forward," Lysenko said of the release. "This is one
of the major steps towards the Russian Federation --- they were not taken to
court, they were transferred."