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Savchenko Meets Russia-Backed Separatist Leaders, Stirring Outrage


Ukrainian lawmaker and former Russian prisoner Nadia Savchenko (file photo)

KYIV -- Ukrainian lawmaker Nadia Savchenko has confirmed that she met with the leadership of Russia-backed separatists for consultations on prisoner swaps. The move triggered rebukes from her party for what it called "negotiating with terrorists."

Savchenko, a military aviator who was jailed in Russia in 2014 and became a national symbol of resilience before her release in May, told the TV channel 112 Ukraina on December 12 that she met recently in Minsk with separatist leaders Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky.

She spoke hours after Ukrainian media reported that the secret meeting had taken place last week in the Belarusian capital.

Savchenko's Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, headed by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, called the meeting "unacceptable."

Savchenko has previously infuriated some lawmakers and officials by urging reconciliation to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine between the separatists and Kyiv's forces that has killed more than 9,750 people since April 2014.

Kyiv considers the separatists to be "terrorists" who are backed by Russia's government with money, personnel, and heavy weaponry.

'Chosen By The People'

Savchenko told 112 Ukraina that she did not inform her party about the meeting because "every lawmaker, regardless of party… is chosen by the people."

Oleksandr Tkachuk, chief of staff of Ukraine's SBU security service, told RFE/RL on December 12 that Savchenko had confirmed her meeting with the separatist leaders during a visit to its office earlier in the day.

He said Savchenko had not broken any laws by taking part in the meeting but "may have violated parliament security procedures."

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Ukrainian members of parliament are provided access to state secrets, he explained, and thus must disclose with the office of the Verkhovna Rada all trips abroad in advance.

Savchenko "should have informed the parliament of her intentions to go abroad," Tkachuk added.

Plotnitksy confirmed the meeting to Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news agency on December 12.

"The main topic of conversation was the exchange of prisoners in an 'all-for-all' format," Plotnitsky was quoted as saying.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Christopher Miller in Kyiv, 112.ua, Liga.net, and RIA Novosti
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