Ukrainian president does not exclude referendum on Crimea and Donbass

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks by phone with U.S. President Joe Biden in Kyiv

By Natalia Zinets

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday said he did not exclude holding a referendum on the future status of war-torn eastern Ukraine and the Crimea peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

Zelenskiy did not give detail on how and when a referendum could be held, but said it was one of the options to revive a stalled peace process in eastern Ukraine and end a standoff with neighbouring Russia.

Ukraine has scrambled to shore up support from Western allies in recent weeks, accusing Russia of massing tens of thousands of troops near its borders in preparation for a possible large scale military offensive.

Relations between Kyiv and Moscow collapsed after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and Moscow-backed forces seized territory in eastern Ukraine that Kyiv wants back. Kyiv says some 14,000 people have been killed in fighting since then.

"I do not rule out a referendum on Donbass in general," Zelenskiy told the 1+1 television channel. "It might be about Donbass, it might be about Crimea, it might be about ending the war in general," he said. "So it may be that someone, this or that country can offer us certain conditions."

Zelenskiy has welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden taking a "personal role" in trying to end the war in eastern Ukraine. Zelenskiy said Biden had conveyed Russian reassurances that Moscow would not cause an escalation.

Zelenskiy also said he would not rule out direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia demanded on Friday that NATO rescind a 2008 commitment to Ukraine and Georgia that they would one day become members and said the alliance should promise not to deploy weapons in countries bordering Russia that could threaten its security.

Russia denies planning any attack on Ukraine but accuses Kyiv and Washington of destabilising behaviour, and has said it needs security guarantees for its own protection.

Ukraine has dismissed Moscow's demands for security guarantees as illegitimate and Zelenskiy said Biden had not tried to force concessions on him.

"We didn't talk about any compromises," he said.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Barbara Lewis)