Russian and Ukrainian leaders in France for crucial conflict talks

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Russia’s Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy are embarking on roundtable talks in Paris that will centre on the devastating five-year conflict in east Ukraine as the two presidents meet for the first time.

They will sit down with France’s Emmanuel Macron, who has advocated opening up to Russia, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While the meeting is significant there is little hope of a major breakthrough.

The summit is a major test for Mr Zelenskiy, a political newcomer and comic who became President earlier this year on the back of promises to end the war between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists that has seen more than 13,000 people killed. The issue of Crimea, whose annexation led to international sanctions against Russia, is not on the table.

Emmanuel Macron greets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. EPA

Speaking before the talks, Mr Zelenskiy said that a prisoner exchange in September was a “signal” that “Russia is ready to talk” but he has been warned against conceding too much ground to Mr Putin.

He wants to tweak the timeline laid out in the 2015 Minsk accord, which calls for Ukraine to be able to regain control of its border with Russia only after local elections are held in the separatist regions and the regions receive autonomous status. Mr Zelenskiy says Ukraine must get control of its border first before local elections are held but Russia has rejected this.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko ahead of the meeting said his country's key demands were a "total and permanent ceasefire, our control over the borders of a unitary and indivisible state, the disarmament and dismantling of illegal armed groups, local elections in accordance with our legislation."

Russia wants to use the summit to increase pressure on Mr Zelenskiy to fulfil the Minsk peace accord.

“There are expectations that three guarantors of the Minsk agreements will explain to Zelenskiy that the agreements can’t be revised,” Natalya Nikonorova, foreign minister of the separatists’ unrecognised Donetsk People’s Republic, told Kommersant.

Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas praised Mr Zelenskiy, arguing he had brought “new momentum” but warned that Russia “needs to make a move too”.

Updated: December 9, 2019 07:57 PM

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