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Trump aides in back-door Ukraine peace plan – NYT

NEW YORK, USA – President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, a business associate and a Ukrainian lawmaker have drawn up a peace plan for the Russia-Ukraine conflict, presenting the proposal to the administration's former national security advisor, the New York Times reported on Sunday, February 19.

According to the report, Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen hand-delivered the proposal to the office of Michael Flynn, who resigned in disgrace a week later due to a separate incident involving contacts with Moscow's ambassador in Washington.

The report underscored stubborn allegations of improper Russian influence on the Trump administration, with US intelligence agencies saying Moscow meddled in the American election in November to tip the outcome in the Republican's favor.

According to the Times, the amateur diplomats behind the proposal are Cohen; Felix Sater, a business associate who helped Trump scout deals in Russia; and Andrii Artemenko, an upstart Ukrainian lawmaker who claims to have evidence of corruption that could oust President Petro Poroshenko.

The report said the proposal, which outlined a way for Washington to lift sanctions against Russia, was a plan concocted by Artemenko essentially requiring the withdrawal of all Russian forces from eastern Ukraine. 

"Ukrainian voters would decide in a referendum whether Crimea, the Ukrainian territory seized by Russia in 2014, would be leased to Russia for a term of 50 or 100 years," the Times said.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has cost some 10,000 lives since parts of two mostly Russian-speaking eastern regions declared independence from Kiev's pro-Western government following the ouster of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied having knowledge of the plan Monday, telling journalists: "How can Russia lease its own region? The question itself is rather absurd."

In Kiev, the report that Artemenko, an obscure lawmaker in the minority Radical Party, raised eyebrows, and the party's group in parliament was meeting Monday to discuss whether to expel him.

"A lot of people will call me a Russian agent, a US agent, a CIA agent," Artemenko told the Times. "But how can you find a good solution between our countries if we do not talk?"

It was not clear if Flynn studied the proposal or took any action on it. 

Trump met over the weekend with four candidates he is considering as Flynn's replacement.

Cohen and Sater said they had not spoken to Trump about the proposal, the Times reported.

Ukraine's ambassador to the United States slammed the apparent back-door diplomacy.

Artemenko "is not entitled to present any alternative peace plans on behalf of Ukraine to any foreign government, including the US administration," Valeriy Chaly told the newspaper.

The idea of leasing Crimea to Russia "can be pitched or pushed through only by those openly or covertly representing Russian interests," he said. – Rappler.com