Putin says he floated Ukraine referendum during meeting with Trump: report

Putin says he floated Ukraine referendum during meeting with Trump: report
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has told diplomats that he discussed with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE this week the possibility of holding a referendum in separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, according to a Bloomberg report

The proposal reportedly calls for a vote in separatist regions of the country that would allow the areas to decide their own status as a way to resolve the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Putin told Russian diplomats that he had floated the proposal during the summit in Helsinki on Monday, but agreed not to disclose the plan publicly so that Trump could give it some thought, Bloomberg reported. 

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Such a referendum would almost certainly face intense pushback from Kiev and the European Union, which remain supportive of the 2015 Minsk II agreement to halt the fighting in Ukraine's Donbas region.

It would also mark a change in Washington's position, which calls for Russia to live up to its commitments under the Minsk agreement.

"Presidents Trump and Putin discussed a wide range of national security issues is Helsinki. The US position on Ukraine remains the same," a spokesman with the National Security Council told The Hill in a statement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Bloomberg that, during the summit in Helsinki, "some new ideas were discussed" regarding the situation in Ukraine and that "they will be worked on." He did not comment on the details of the reported referendum proposal.

Fighting erupted in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts — collectively the Donbas region — in eastern Ukraine in 2014 after Russia's annexation of Crimea earlier that year.

While the U.S., Ukraine and the European Union have condemned Russia's annexation of Crimea as illegal, Trump has taken a softer line on the matter, including telling Group of Seven leaders in June that the peninsula is Russian because its people speak Russian.

The U.S. and Europe have blamed Russia for backing separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine, accusing Moscow of sending troops to the region and supplying weapons – allegations that the Russian government denies.

Rebel leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk held referendums on independence in 2014, but the votes were not internationally recognized and the Ukrainian government dismissed them as a "farce." Kiev has offered the regions autonomy, while remaining part of Ukraine.

Updated: 3:51 p.m.