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Putin, Obama chat about Crimea

29 March 2014, 09:09

Moscow - Russian President Vladimir Putin called US President Obama Friday to discuss a US proposal for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, the White House said.

Obama suggested that Russia provide a concrete written response to a plan US Secretary of State John Kerry presented to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at the Hague earlier in the week.

Obama, who arrived in Saudi Arabia Friday on the final leg of an overseas trip, also urged Russia to avoid further provocations, including the buildup of forces on its border with Ukraine, and to support the Ukrainian government's restrained and de-escalatory approach. He said a diplomatic path remained possible only if Russia pulled back its troops and did not take any steps to further violate Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The Russian news agency Itar-Tass said Putin told Obama that extremists in Ukraine continued to "rampage." He said extremists were committing acts of intimidation against civilians, institutions and law enforcers in different parts of Ukraine and do so with impunity, Itar-Tass said, quoting the Kremlin's press service.

In this context Putin suggested considering steps by the international community to help stabilize the situation in Ukraine. A senior Obama administration official later described the proposal the presidents discussed as "the latest iteration of a working document" that Kerry and Lavrov "have been working on to de-escalate the situation."

The proposal includes "general elements of an off-ramp, including: international monitors, pull back of Russian forces, and direct Russia-Ukraine dialogue - supported by the international community," the official said. Also on Friday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that Putin told him he had no military designs on Ukraine.

"President Putin told me that he had no intention to make any military move," Ban said after briefing the UN Security Council on his recent trip to Russia and Ukraine. "At the same time, President Putin also expressed his concern about the extreme, radical elements," Ban said.

Meanwhile, earlier Friday ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych called for every region in Ukraine to hold a referendum on whether to remain in the former Soviet republic, nearly two weeks after Crimea voted to join Russia.

Putin praises army

"As the president, ... I call on each reasonable citizen of Ukraine - don't let the impostors use you," he was quoted as saying in a statement by Russia's Itar-Tass news agency. "Demand a referendum on the determination of the status of each region within Ukraine."

Yanukovych, a pro-Russian leader who fled Ukraine for Russia in late February after three months of protests against his government, argued that only a country-wide referendum and not an early presidential election could stabilize the political situation in the country, which is now being run by an interim pro-Western government.

Russia annexed Crimea after its referendum, which was internationally condemned and not recognized. Putin praised the Russian military's actions in Crimea, where it has taken over all military bases in a region that had been an autonomous republic within Ukraine. He said the operations showed Russia's combat readiness.

"The recent events in Crimea were a very serious test, and they showed the quality of the new capabilities of our armed forces as well as the high morale of men and officers," Putin said at a meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. Putin ordered Ukrainian troops who still wished to serve Ukraine to surrender their weapons and equipment and leave Crimea.

Shoigu said all troops loyal to Russia would retain their weaponry. "The replacement of the symbols of state on all ships and bases is completed," he said.



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