Ukraine ‘does not rule out’ Donbass referendum – Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, on Friday, that he would not rule out the possibility of a referendum on the status of two breakaway regions, in the east of his country, or direct negotiations with Moscow.
Zelensky was speaking to Kiev's 1+1 TV network, following a call with the French President Emmanuel Macron. He was referring to Donetsk and Lugansk, which have been largely controlled by separatists, with Russian support, since shortly after the Kiev Maidan in 2014.
“I do not rule out a referendum on Donbass as a whole. It’s not a question of status,” the president explained. “This could be about the Donbass, Crimea, and maybe in general on halting the war.”
Zelensky also said he would not rule out direct negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and saw support for it from Ukraine’s European partners and the US.
A readout of the Macron-Zelensky call provided by Paris said the two presidents agreed to resume the talks in the so-called Normandy format, with the mediation of France and Germany. Macron pledged to discuss reviving the model with the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz next week.
US President Joe Biden also spoke with Zelensky on Thursday, briefing the Ukrainian leader on his talks with Putin earlier in the week.
The Normandy format was responsible for the Minsk agreements, which stopped the high-intensity fighting in the Donbass by the spring of 2015. The two eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk had declared independence from Ukraine in 2014, after the elected government in Kiev was violently overthrown. While Russia does not recognise their status, it does support both regions.
The president elected in the aftermath, Petro Poroshenko, lost to Zelensky in 2019 in a landslide.