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Kremlin aides ‘advise’ Ukraine rebel leader

A top Ukrainian separatist leader said Tuesday that top aides of Russian President Vladimir Putin had advised him on his rebel statelet’s political future and its economic development.

Denis Pushilin, a leader of the self-proclaimed “People’s Republic of Donetsk”, said he had held economic talks with top Kremlin aides Vladislav Surkov and Sergei Glazyev as well as Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of parliament’s upper house.

“There is support and mutual understanding,” he told reporters in Moscow.

“We should launch an economic process and think about markets,” said Pushilin, who has been in Russia for the past few days.

“It’s important to be here and conduct work on establishing civil institutions and forming the socio-economic sector.”

The Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Lugansk broke away from Kiev after disputed referendums in May and are now seeking to carve out their own state with help from Russia.

Both regions, which together have a population of about seven million, lie at the heart of Ukraine’s coal and steel industry and account for about 15 percent of gross domestic product.

But many experts doubt the economically depressed areas would be able to survive without help from Ukraine or Russia as the coal mining industry is heavily subsidised.

Pushilin said the rebel leadership had not had yet a clear plan on the region’s future.

“It’s hard to say whether we will become a region of Russia or create a union state with Russia and Belarus.”

Moscow is spearheading a project to unite several ex-Soviet republics into the Eurasian Economic Union that will come into force from January 1 next year.

The Kremlin has for weeks sought to distance itself from Ukrainian rebels but announced earlier this month that separatists were helping Russia send humanitarian aide to refugees in the east of the ex-Soviet country.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP he was not aware of any talks between Pushilin and Russian officials.

All three officials — Surkov, Glazyev and Matviyenko — are on a US sanctions list.

Aleksandr Borodai, prime minister of the “People’s Republic of Donetsk,” was also in Moscow on Tuesday.

“We are thankful for any help and support, we are very much waiting for it and counting on it,” he said in comments released by the upper house of parliament.