Pro-Russian TV channel claims Russian president met Ukraine leader in 2016

A pro-opposition Russian television channel has published what it calls compromising evidence of a clandestine meeting between Vladimir Putin and the late Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko in a disputed part of eastern Ukraine.

The RT reporter Dmitry Sablin, who recently lived in Moscow, published a series of tweets and photographs on Wednesday that claimed to show Lukashenko, Putin and European figures meeting in a secret location on 4 December 2016.

Sablin said that the location, the Vostok special forces camp, was once a military base known as Maronovka, on the edge of the Donetsk war zone. The Ukraine-Russia conflict began there in 2014.

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However, the Channel One Moscow channel, known as NTV, said on Friday it had found no evidence of the meeting and the image of the Vostok camp had been doctored.

The channel said that if the report was true, it was proof that Russia “blackmailed” Ukraine to prevent aid from entering the country.

Ukraine’s border guard service said on Thursday that the country had stopped a truckload of aid for people fleeing fighting in eastern Ukraine.

RT, a news outlet seen as close to the Kremlin, claimed in a lengthy article that the three men gathered in the camp ate at a restaurant and attended a film screening, but the detail of the purported meeting made no mention of food or any other activity.

RT said that the men, along with journalists from the news channel, “have been secretly meeting” in the camp over the past several years. The website posted what it said were 28 images taken by Sablin, who lived in Moscow for seven months on the invitation of Putin.

Sablin has previously produced a documentary about meetings the Russian president and the late British leader Margaret Thatcher had in the Soviet Union and in the border town of Zapopan in Crimea in the late 1990s.

Speaking to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta this week, Sablin said that while working for RT, he had met Lukashenko – known as “the Baader-Meinhof of Russia” – several times and had seen the footage. He said he obtained the information from current and former intelligence and security officials.

The Russian parliament will consider an inquiry into the issue later on Friday, along with other sensitive information about a woman named Maria Butina, Sablin said. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government in the US last month and is due to testify to the inquiry.

Natalia Savchenko, the Ukrainian pilot who was jailed in Russia over the downing of a Russian military plane in 2014, has criticised the report, saying it revealed “somehow a conspiracy”.

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