Russian call for Ukraine referendum illegitimate – White House

Russian call for Ukraine referendum illegitimate – White House

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The White House said it “is not considering supporting” a Vladimir-Putin-backed call for a referendum in eastern Ukraine in the aftermath of US president Donald Trump’s meeting with the Russian leader.

Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, revealed that the two leaders had discussed the possibility of a referendum in separatist-leaning eastern Ukraine during their Helsinki summit.

However, US National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said agreements between Russia and the Ukrainian government for resolving the conflict in the Donbas region “do not include any option for referendum”. He added that any effort to organise a “so-called referendum” would have “no legitimacy”.

The White House announcement came as it laid out the agenda for an autumn summit between Mr Trump and Mr Putin in Washington that would focus on national security.

Moscow signalled its openness to a second formal meeting between the two leaders, as Mr Trump continued to face criticism over his first session with his Russian counterpart.

A White House official said the next Trump-Putin meeting would address national security concerns discussed in Helsinki, including Russian meddling. The official did not specify if that meant Russia’s interference in US elections.

The official said the talks would also cover nuclear proliferation, North Korea, Iran and Syria. Mr Trump asked US National Security Adviser John Bolton to invite Mr Putin to Washington in the fall to follow up on issues they discussed this week in Helsinki, Finland, the official said.

A White House meeting would be a dramatic extension of legitimacy to the Russian leader, who has long been isolated by the West for activities in Ukraine, Syria and beyond, and is believed to have interfered in the 2016 presidential election that sent Mr Trump to the presidency.

No Russian leader has visited the White House in nearly a decade. The announcement of a second summit comes as US officials remained silent on what, if anything, the two leaders agreed to in Helsinki during their more than two-hour one-on-one meeting, in which only translators were present.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats revealed on Thursday he has yet to be briefed on the private session. The Russian government has proven to be more forthcoming.

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