WASHINGTON - A candidate in Ukraine's critical upcoming presidential election on Wednesday urged US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to talk through their stark differences "like real men."
Obama and Putin should "open a bottle of fine French wine and talk like real men, openly and honestly, and remember that, through joint efforts, the American and Russian forces and people were able to overcome fascism and give the world a chance to continue peaceful development," Valery Konovalyuk told reporters.
The pair, split over the escalating crisis in Ukraine, could meet next month in France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Konovalyuk, an economist and political veteran, said on a visit to Washington - where he met US lawmakers - that Ukraine should declare itself non-aligned so as to reassure Russia that it does not face a threat from an eastward expansion of NATO.
"We need to give Russia the opportunity to re-evaluate its policies but at the same time give it a chance to save its political face," Konovalyuk said.
"I don't want Ukraine to be split into something like West Germany and East Germany. I don't want the world to go back to the days of the Cold War." Konovalyuk has been considered a minor candidate in the May 25 election in which the favorites are chocolate tycoon Petro Poroshenko and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Both front-runners staunchly supported the pro-Western protesters who toppled Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych in February after months of demonstrations.
Konovalyuk was in the past close to Yanukovych and the pro-Russian bloc. But he criticised Yanukovych, accusing him of working to destabilize the country, while also accusing Ukraine's interim leaders of showing a "complete disregard" for Russian-speaking citizens.
After Washington, Konovalyuk said he would travel on to Brussels and Moscow, where he would ask for Putin to make a statement on Russia's intentions in Ukraine.
Besides discussing his proposals, Konovalyuk said he also hoped to challenge Putin on the judo mat - both men are trained in the martial art.