Putin, Zelensky hold first meeting, agree to swap all prisoners

Clay Curtis
December 10, 2019

"I say very openly we have a lot of work to do, but my feeling from this meeting here today is that there is goodwill to resolve hard questions", said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who along with France brokered the talks.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine that broke out in 2014 has killed more than 13,000 people, left a large swathe of Ukraine de facto controlled by Moscow-backed separatists and aggravated the deepest east-west rift since the Cold War.

A major breakthrough is unlikely, and Ukrainian protesters in Kyiv are heaping pressure on Zelenskiy not to surrender too much to Putin at their first face-to-face meeting.

The Kremlin hopes that an end to the conflict could also lead to the eventual lifting of EU sanctions against Russian Federation linked to the eastern Ukraine fighting, which the European businesses has pushed for.

He accused Ukraine of trying "to impair the constructive course of the Paris meeting" Monday between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Whatever happens, the summit is the biggest test yet for Zelensky, a comic actor and political novice who won the presidency this year in a landslide - partly on promises to end the war.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her positive assessment of the meeting between Zelensky and Putin.

Putin said Ukraine should give autonomy to the rebel-held regions in line with the deal and also approve legislation granting amnesty to the rebels.

While Zelensky still enjoys broad public support, he has been embarrassed by the scandal around his discussions with US President Donald Trump that have unleashed an impeachment inquiry in Washington.

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"We have had progress on most things", Putin said.

At a press conference after the talks in France's Élysée Palace, President Putin hailed the talks as an "important step" towards a de-escalation of the conflict.

Ukraine's United Nations ambassador, Volodymyr Yelchenko, introduced the resolution, saying Russia's actions have "far-reaching consequences for security not only in the Black Sea area, but in the whole south Europe, as well as in North Africa and the Middle East". Many in Ukraine think that Zelenskiy, a former comedian, can easily be manipulated by Putin. Opposition politicians rejected "peace at the cost of capitulation" and expressed grave misgivings about Putin's willingness to deal honestly.

Zelenskiy said before Monday's talks that he hopes they will help achieve a lasting cease-fire and a deal to exchange all prisoners held by the warring parties.

If that doesn't work, Plan B reportedly includes proposals for building a physical wall along the border to keep Russian forces out of eastern Ukraine, a move that would dramatically escalate the Kyiv-Moscow diplomatic crisis.

It was an insurgency against the new pro-Western authorities in the capital Kyiv, who had ousted the pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovych, in street protests dubbed the "Maidan Revolution".

The Kremlin insists that's not an option, and the separatists hope that Russia, France and Germany refuse Zelenskiy's requests.

And Russia will not see a lifting of European sanctions that were imposed after the annexation of the semi-autonomous region in 2014.

In November, Gazprom sent Ukraine's Naftogaz an official proposal to extend the transit contract, which expires on December 31, or enter into a new one for one year, taking into account the projected demand in the EU. I said that we won't do it.

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