Ukraine’s Zelensky wants to meet Putin for peace talks

KIEV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Monday for Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to meet him for peace talks in Minsk.
“And now I want to address the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin,” Zelensky said in a video address posted on YouTube shortly before he was scheduled to host the top officials of the European Union in Kiev. “We need to talk? Let’s talk.”
Zelensky suggested that the leaders of the United States, Britain, Germany, France and Belarus also attend the peace talks, which he said could be hosted by Minsk.
Ukraine’s military has been battling Russian-backed separatists in the country’s two eastern-most regions for the past five years. Zelensky, inaugurated as president two months ago, has set resolving the conflict as his top priority.
About 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to estimates by the United Nations. The conflict erupted in early 2014 after Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian president in a political pivot towards the West.
Russia has denied direct involvement in the conflict and presented itself as nothing more than an intermediary. Putin has previously spoken on behalf of the rebels at international peace talks.
“I very much hope that we won’t have this war in one year’s time,” Zelensky told reporters after talks with European Council chief Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.
Ukraine is “moving towards a sustainable ceasefire,” Zelensky told a press conference, standing alongside Tusk and Juncker.
Zelensky upheld the West’s sanctions against Russia, saying that such measures must continue until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored. “Sanctions policy is the last civilized tool to achieve peace,” he said.
At the weekend, Zelensky and Tusk visited the war-torn Luhansk region. “The tragedy in eastern Ukraine continues,” Tusk said at the time, noting “disastrous humanitarian consequences” by what he described as “Russia’s war.”
Russia was hesitant in its response to Zelensky’s proposal for the renewed peace talks, with Putin’s spokesman saying he currently could not give an answer. “This is a new initiative, and certainly it will be considered,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
— dpa