An exclusive report in The New York Times says a lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump has helped a pro-Russia opposition Ukrainian lawmaker submit to Trump's administration a proposed alternative peace plan for the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on February 20 that the report was “absurd” and that Moscow had no knowledge of the purported peace plan.
According to the February 19 Times report, Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen submitted the plan to former national security adviser Michael Flynn about one week before Flynn resigned over allegations that he misinformed the administration about the nature of his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States.
Cohen -- who has no foreign-policy experience -- is himself under investigation by the FBI for possible connections with Russian intelligence. He denies the allegations.
The plan was created by Ukrainian opposition lawmaker Andriy Artemenko, who claims to have documents proving corruption by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
It called for Russia to withdraw its forces from eastern Ukraine and for Ukraine to hold a referendum on leasing the region of Crimea to Russia for a period of 50 or 100 years. Moscow seized and illegally Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014.
According to The New York Times report, Artemenko's plan outlines "a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia."
Artemenko told The New York Times that the primary goal of his plan was to end the war in eastern Ukraine.
He said the secondary goal was to improve relations between the United States and Russia.
"If I could achieve both in one stroke, it would be a home run," Artemenko told the newspaper.
Artemenko also said that his plan has been encouraged by senior Russian officials.
Dmitry Peskov denied that Russia had any knowledge of the plan. He repeated the Kremlin’s assertions that Russia has no military forces in eastern Ukraine, despite strong evidence to the contrary.
Peskov also said Russia will not, under any circumstances, discuss the status of Crimea.
"There’s nothing to talk about," Peskov said. "How can Russia lease its own region to itself?"
Artemenko said he was put into contact with Cohen by Felix Sater, a Russian-American business associate of Trump's who pleaded guilty in a mafia-connected racketeering case in 1998.
Cohen told The New York Times that he personally left Artemenko's proposal in Flynn's office while Flynn was still serving as Trump's national security adviser.
Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, criticized Artemenko's initiative -- saying the opposition lawmaker was "not entitled to present any alternative peace plans on behalf of Ukraine."
More than 9,750 people have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatists since April 2014.
With reporting by The New York Times