The White House said on Friday that President Trump is not considering supporting Russian president Vladimir Putin’s proposal for a referendum on eastern Ukraine’s independence.
“The Administration is not considering supporting a referendum in the eastern Ukraine,” read a statement from National Security Council spokesman Garret Marquis. “Furthermore, to organize a so-called referendum in a part of Ukraine which is not under government control would have no legitimacy.”
Putin reportedly floated the idea of the referendum to help solve the conflict in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions during his private meeting this week with Trump in Helsinki, Finland. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 instigated the conflict. Russia has said it “respects” 2014 referendums held by the so-called people’s republics in eastern Ukraine that showed the vast majority supported separating from Ukraine, but the U.S. and EU did not recognize those votes and branded them illegal.
The 2015 Minsk Agreements, a deal between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany aimed at quelling tensions in the area, should be followed and “do not include any option for a referendum,” Marquis said.
The NSC statement comes as Trump is facing criticism from those who say he has been too soft on Putin and the Kremlin. After Monday’s controversial press conference with the Russian president, in which Trump declined to endorse the findings of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia did attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election, critics accused him of weakness and even treason in some cases.
“I’ll be [Putin’s] worst nightmare” if the relationship fails, Trump insisted on Thursday. “But I don’t think it’ll be that way.”
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