Moscow: Russia has given its backing to a Ukrainian politician blacklisted by the United States to act as a negotiator in talks aimed at ending violence in eastern Ukraine.
Viktor Medvedchuk, head of the political organisation Ukrainian Choice, has been involved in tentative talks between separatists in the country`s east and the government in Kiev.
Speaking on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Medvedchuk "must be supported in his efforts."
"Viktor Medvedchuk is in good communication with us," Lavrov told state channel Rossiya. "He is well known in Russia, he has good contacts with all political forces in Ukraine."
The informal talks in Donetsk, aimed at ending the bloody standoff between separatists and the Ukrainian army, have involved an assortment of figures including Russian ambassador Mikhail Zurabov, former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, and the "prime minister" of the self-proclaimed People`s Republic of Donetsk, Alexander Borodai.
The Kremlin last week singled out Medvedchuk, applauding his participation.
"He is respected in Kiev, he is known in the West," the Kremlin said in a statement, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin "welcomes" his presence in eastern Ukraine.
But Medvedchuk is viewed with suspicion by the US, which considers him to be a Russian stooge.
Medvedchuk was chief of staff to Kuchma, the pro-Russian president of Ukraine who held office from 1994 to 2005.
He has not held public office for almost a decade. Some reports claim Putin is godfather to his daughter.
He was put on a blacklist by the United States in March over his role in "stirring conflict" near Crimea ahead of its annexation by Moscow.
The US Treasury called him "a long-time proxy and close personal friend" of Putin and accused him of involvement in the violence against protesters in Kiev in December that later spiralled out of control and brought down the government.
Lavrov said Medvedchuk had been invited by Ukraine`s new pro-Western president, Petro Poroshenko, "with the agreement of other participants in the process."
Medvedchuk has vehemently denied allegations in the media that he supports the separatists.
"I can only give one comment: Ukraine needs peace," he said in a statement posted on his organisation`s website on Saturday.