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French, German Leaders To Present Ukraine Peace Plan To Russia


And let's get the view from Moscow now. The leaders of France and Germany will head there today with a peace plan to present to Russia's Vladimir Putin. Diplomats from both countries say it is a response to a detailed proposal from the Russian president. And NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us now from Moscow. Corey, good morning.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So do we know much about what Vladimir Putin is proposing?

FLINTOFF: Well, we're told that Putin's letter to the French and German leaders ran to nine pages. So it would appear to be pretty specific. The central demand is for recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics. Those are the parts of eastern Ukraine where Russian-backed militia groups seized power and declared independent republics.

GREENE: Right.

FLINTOFF: That wouldn't necessarily mean that they'd leave Ukraine. But they'd have a lot of autonomy. So far, that's been absolutely unacceptable to the Ukrainian side. And we're told that it's a nonstarter for the Americans as well. It's worth noting that this Russian proposal was sent to the French and Germans, but not to the Americans. And as we just heard in Michele's report, that's raising fears that this is a Russian effort to split the Western allies.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you this, Corey Flintoff. I mean, this idea of some sort of autonomy for these regions - in Michele Kelemen's piece, she quoted a Western diplomat saying that Russia seems to want a cynical roadmap to another frozen conflict. What does that mean, and how would it fit into Russia's goals exactly?

FLINTOFF: Well, we're not sure. But in the past week or so, Russian officials have revived a couple of their main talking points about Ukraine. One is that Ukraine must be neutral; that is, it must not join NATO. And the other is that Ukraine should change its constitution and become a kind of loose federation of regions. These two Eastern regions are very much under Russia's influence. And if they were part of Ukraine's political process, they'd be able to veto any Ukrainian government moves that Russia didn't like.

GREENE: We don't know a whole lot about what the French and Germans are proposing. But one thing they seem to be talking about is protecting Ukraine's territorial integrity. What could that mean in terms of what they're asking from the Russians?

FLINTOFF: That seems to refer back to the Minsk agreement, where Russia was supposed to ensure the permanent monitoring of its border with Ukraine. The agreement also said that all illegal armed groups and mercenaries would be withdrawn from the Eastern provinces. And that would presumably include all the so-called Russian volunteers who were fighting there. The border would then be watched over by monitors from the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Now, to this day, in spite of a lot of evidence to the contrary, Russia is still denying that it has sent any troops or weapons over the border. So it's pretty hard to negotiate something that one party just denies.

GREENE: And, I guess, pretty hard to negotiate when there's all this violence that's happening. And we had this cease-fire negotiated back in September. These pro-Russian fighters have gone far beyond the line that was drawn in the past couple weeks. I mean, is there any expectation they would be willing to give up ground?

FLINTOFF: No, and in fact, the militia leaders have said they want to push the Ukrainian army back out of artillery range so it can't shell any of their cities, such as Donetsk. But Aleksandr Zakharchenko, who's the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, has said all along that he intends to control all the land in Donetsk province, and if he can't get it by negotiation, he'll take it by force.

GREENE: With threats like that coming from the separatists, I mean, are there people in Ukraine who worry that the French and Germans are going to give up too much, you know, in the name of avoiding a bigger war with Russia?

FLINTOFF: President Hollande said yesterday, and I'm quoting this, "it will not be said that France and Germany together have not tried everything, undertaken everything, to preserve the peace." So that could suggest that he's seeing this as a last-ditch effort.

GREENE: We've been speaking to NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow, where the leaders of France and Germany will be arriving today to talk about a peace plan with Vladimir Putin. Corey, thanks very much.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.