Trump Rejects Putin Offer on Vote in Disputed Ukraine Region

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump rejected Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s offer to settle the conflict in eastern Ukraine with a referendum in the disputed region, the White House said Friday.

“The administration is not considering supporting a referendum in the eastern Ukraine,” said Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

Putin told Russian diplomats that he made a proposal to Trump at their summit in Helsinki on July 16 to call a referendum to help resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but agreed not to disclose the plan publicly so the U.S. president could consider it, according to two people who attended Putin’s closed-door speech on Thursday.

Details on the proposal were reported by Bloomberg News Thursday, as worries in the U.S. are rising about what Trump and Putin discussed during a one-on-one session in Helsinki that lasted more than two hours.

Dan Coats, Trump’s director of national intelligence, told an audience in Aspen, Colorado, on Thursday that “I don’t know” what happened during the president’s meeting with Putin. He also said he wouldn’t have recommended Trump meet alone with Russian president.

Putin’s proposal on eastern Ukraine called for a vote conducted under international auspices by the residents of the separatist territories on their status, the people said.

Such a referendum would have antagonized Ukraine and its backers in Europe, who remain committed to the 2015 European-brokered Minsk truce deal for the Donbas region, parts of which are controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

“The Minsk Agreements are the process for resolving the conflict in the Donbas, and these agreements do not include any option for referendum,” Marquis said. “Furthermore, to organize a so-called referendum in a part of Ukraine which is not under government control would have no legitimacy.”

Leaders of so-called people’s republics in Donetsk and Luhansk held referendums in May 2014 that declared independence. The votes were rejected as illegal by the U.S. and the EU, while Ukraine called them a “farce.” Russia said at the time that it “respects” the votes, which showed as much as 96 percent support for breaking away from Ukraine.

Trump on Thursday called his summit with Putin “a great success” in a Twitter message, and cited Ukraine among the areas discussed, without providing details.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.