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Putin to Ukraine:Begin Immediate Talks 08/31 11:50

   Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called on Ukraine to immediately 
start talks on a political solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

   KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called on 
Ukraine to immediately start talks on a political solution to the crisis in 
eastern Ukraine.

   Putin's comment, made to national TV network Channel 1 and reported by 
Russian news agencies after they were broadcast in Russia's Far East, said 
Ukraine should "hold substantive, meaningful talks, not about technical issues 
but about the question of the political organization of society and statehood 
in southeast Ukraine, with the goal of safeguarding the legitimate interests of 
those people who live there."

   Despite the use of the word "statehood, Putin did not envision sovereignty 
for the two separatist eastern regions that style themselves as "Novorossiya" 
(New Russia ), his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later, according to a Russian 
news report.

   Russia previously has called for talks between the central government and 
the separatist rebels in the east, which Ukrainian forces have been fighting 
since April and Russia has pushed for federalization that would devolve more 
powers to the regions.

   Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko released a peace plan in June that 
proposed an unspecified level of decentralization of executive powers and 
budgetary matters. But rebels so have rejected any talks unless Ukrainian 
forces halt their offensive.

   Rebel representatives couldn't immediately be reached Sunday and 
Poroshenko's spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, said he had no immediate comment.

   Although Kiev and Western countries allege Russia has sent in troops and 
equipment to bolster the pro-Russia rebels, Moscow firmly rejects the 
accusations and distances itself from suggestions that it can wield influence 
on the rebels. Last week, after his first extensive meeting with Poroshenko, 
Putin rejected any suggestion that Russia could be involved in negotiating a 
cease-fire in the conflict, which has killed nearly 2,600 people according to 
the United Nations.

   Putin said Ukraine should stop the offensive.

   "If anybody believes that in a situation where the cities and villages of 
east Ukraine come under direct fire that the militiamen will have no reaction 
to that, but will simply wait for the promised talks, then these people are 
prisoner to some illusions," he said.

   The Russian leader's statement comes as Ukrainian forces battle against 
newly strengthened resistance from the rebels. After making gains in recent 
weeks, Ukraine has been forced to pull out of several towns over the past week. 
In addition, rebels have opened a new front along the southeast Azov Sea coast 
which could indicate the intention to establish a land bridge between Russia 
and the Crimean Peninsula that Russia annexed in March.

   Ukraine says Russian tanks and troops took part in the move against the 
coast and NATO claims there are at least 1,000 Russian troops in Ukraine.

   This week, Ukraine seized 10 Russian soldiers well inside the country. On 
Sunday, Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the national security council, 
said nine of them had been given back to Russia in exchange for 63 Ukrainian 
servicemen.

   "Ukraine has made a step forward," Lysenko said of the release. "This is one 
of the major steps towards the Russian Federation --- they were not taken to 
court, they were transferred."


(KA)


 
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