Ukrainian airwoman Nadia Savchenko says she is willing to talk with Russia-backed separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine to try to end the nation's two-year-old conflict.
Savchenko told Ukrainian media on June 7 she believes direct peace talks with separatist leaders would be more effective than the current, unproductive talks that have included Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany.
"The first step is extending the anti-Russian sanctions, because Russia does not yet understand that it needs to step back. The second step is to establish direct communication with the [separatists] without the Minsk Agreements. To establish direct internal communication without the third and fourth sides," Savchenko said on Radio Era.
She said she is ready to personally meet with leaders in separatist-held parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky.
Zakharchenko was quoted as saying on June 8 that the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic is prepared to hold talks with Savchenko, but only as part of the Minsk peace process.
"We do not choose negotiators from the Ukrainian side," he reportedly said. "We will talk to the ones they send."
The separatist envoy to the four-party peace talks that began last year in the Belarusian capital, Denis Pushilin, earlier said both Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky would be willing to meet with her if Ukraine gave her formal envoy status.
"It's truly strange, but Ms. Savchenko has so far been the only person to come up with the idea of starting a direct dialogue with Donbas representatives, while this is exactly what the Minsk Agreements stipulate," he told Interfax.
"Therefore, if Nadia Savchenko is invested with all the necessary powers, we will be ready to maintain dialogue with her," he said.
Savchenko was freed in a prisoner exchange with Russia last month after nearly two years in custody and was sworn in as a lawmaker in Ukraine's parliament last week.
She was captured in eastern Ukraine by separatists in June 2014 and transported to Russia, where she was convicted of providing coordinates for a mortar attack that killed two Russian journalists.
Based on reporting by AP, Interfax, and TASS