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Since US President Donald Trump met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki last month, there has been a steady drumbeat of speculation about the subject of their private discussions. It now seems that Putin floated the idea of organising a referendum in Donbas to resolve the crisis resulting from Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine, which followed its annexation of Crimea in spring 2014. There are unconfirmed reports that, in response, Trump asked Putin not to go public with the idea so that he would have time to consider it. Yet Putin’s apparent proposal is fundamentally flawed.
There is a positive aspect to the idea: Putin seems to have demonstrated an awareness of the need to seek an exit from the Donbas morass his imperial “Novorossiya” fantasy created. After having been forced to intervene with regular Russian forces to prevent the collapse of his destabilisation scheme in eastern Ukraine, he is now stuck with the Donetsk and Luhansk pseudo-statelets there, which depend on Kremlin support in virtually every respect. The venture has become a political embarrassment, an economic burden, and a huge obstacle to Russia’s foreign policy ambitions.
Putin previously aired the idea of a UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine, but it transpired that he wanted the force to be little more than a team of bodyguards for a weak Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe observer mission. The plan had very little to do with implementing the Minsk agreement and resolving the crisis. The same is likely true of a referendum…
To read more visit European Council on Foreign Relations.