A Ukrainian lawmaker who met with associates of President Trump about a possible peace deal is now facing a treason investigation.
Andrei Artemenko is under scrutiny from investigators for proposing a plan where his country could legally lease Crimea, annexed by the Kremlin in 2014, to Russia, Ukrainian prosecutors Yuri Lutsenko announced.
A letter posted by Lutsenko on Facebook said that the plan would legitimize the annexation, which followed the deployment of Russian troops and has not been recognized by the international community.
Parts of eastern Ukraine remain paralyzed by violent clashes between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
Artemenko, who opposes Ukraine’s current president Petro Poroshenko, says his meeting with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and Felix Sater, a Russian-American businessman with ties to Trump and the mafia, was about finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.
The New York Times, which first reported the meeting, said that Cohen brought the plan to the Trump administration, though the lawyer has denied doing so.
The January gathering at Manhattan’s Loews Regency also revolved around lifting U.S. sanctions against the Russian government, something Vladimir Putin and associates have hoped for during a Moscow-friendly Trump presidency.
Artemenko met with Trump associates including Michael Cohen in January. (RICHARD DREW/AP)
Artemenko told the Times that his plan had received encouragement from Putin aides, though the Kremlin has said that it would be “absurd” to rent Crimea, which it considers Russian territory, from itself.
While there have been no allegations of criminality, the meeting and proposed plan come amid increased scrutiny of Trump associates’ ties to powerful figures in the former Soviet Union.
Gen. Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Adviser earlier this month after misrepresenting a conversation with Russia’s U.S. ambassador that involved the mention of sanctions.
President Trump's connections to the former Soviet Union have come under scutiny because of proposal to work more closely with Russia. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Cohen was mentioned in unverified claims compiled in a former British spy’s dossier last month, though has vigorously denied claims that he met with Russian officials.
Trump’s connection to Sater, born in Russia but raised in the U.S., has also drawn scrutiny because of Sater’s conviction for stabbing a man with a broken margarita glass in the 1990s and his part in a stock manipulation scheme linked to the Mafia.
Sater, who later turned informant for the FBI, told Fox News that he is not a link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and has no business dealings in Russia or Ukraine.
Felix Sater, a Russian-American real estate businessman, was also part of the January Artemenko meeting. (FELIX SATER/VIA YOUTUBE)
His and Trump’s work together does have links to the former Soviet Union, however.
A Financial Times investigation last year found that Sater’s former employer Bayrock and Trump benefited from sales of apartments in the Trump Soho project to Kazakhs accused of money laundering.
The City of Almaty Kazakhstan has said that former Almaty Mayor Victor Khrapunov and former Kazakh bank head Mukhtar Ablyazov illegally gained billions of dollars through corrupt dealings and embezzlement, later stashing it in real estate holdings throughout the world.
Trump lawyer Alan Garten told the FT that Bayrock and a partner company were responsible for vetting buyers, and that his investigation was not aware of the Kazakhs or the relatives who bought the apartments.
Though Sater listed himself as a “senior adviser” to Trump in 2010, the President has since distanced himself and said in a 2013 deposition that he wouldn’t know be able to recognize his fellow real estate businessman.