Russia's Putin says wants 'diplomatic solution' to Ukraine crisis: London

LONDON (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday he wanted to find a "diplomatic solution" to the crisis in Ukraine, in a telephone call with British Prime Minister David Cameron, according to Downing Street.

Mr Cameron had called Mr Putin to urge him to "de-escalate" the situation in Ukraine and to support the formation of a contact group that could lead to direct talks between Moscow and the new leaders in Kiev. "President Putin agreed that it is in all our interests to have a stable Ukraine," a Downing Street spokesman said. "He said that Russia did want to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis and that he would discuss the proposals on the contact group with Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov tomorrow."

Mr Cameron had made clear to Mr Putin that Britain, along with its European partners and the United States, "want to work with Russia to find a diplomatic
solution to the situation in Ukraine, including Crimea". The British Prime Minister told Mr Putin that "we recognise the right of all Ukrainian people to choose their future" and that elections scheduled for May "provide the best way to do this".

Meanwhile, a Russian lawmaker said on Sunday that Moscow is ready to provide US$1.1 billion (S$1.4 billion) in aid to Crimea as the region moves to break away from Ukraine, a senior Russian lawmaker said Sunday.

"The Russian government has already reserved a lot of money, it's around 40 billion rubles, to support the development of the industrial and economic infrastructure of Crimea," Mr Pavel Dorokhin, deputy chair of the State Duma committee on industry, told reporters in the regional capital Simferopol, Interfax reported.

"Primarily this is support for enterprises linked to the defence industry, machine building, and maintenance of ships, including the ships of the Black Sea fleet. Here we envisage quite clear measures," Mr Dorokhin said.

An emotional Mr Mikhail Khodorkovksy, a top Kremlin critic who spent a decade behind bars, told thousands on Kiev's main protest square on Sunday that Russia colluded with the ousted Ukrainian regime in violence that claimed 100 lives.

"They told me what the authorities did here. They did this with the agreement of the Russian leadership," Russia's former richest man said from a stage set up on Kiev's iconic Independence Square. "I wanted to cry. It is terrifying. This is not my leadership. I want you to know - there is a different Russia."

The southern Ukrainian peninsula will hold a referendum on March 16 on joining Russia, after pro-Moscow lawmakers seized power and Russian troops flooded into the region.

Russia has deep economic interests in Crimea, where the Russian Black Sea fleet is based in the city of Sevastopol under an agreement due to expire in 2035 that sees Moscow lease the port in exchange for a 30 per cent reduction in the price of Russian gas.

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