Putin meets with new Ukraine leader for first time

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy have met for the first time in a bid to end five years of war.

Putin meets with new Ukraine leader for first time

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy have met for the first time in a bid to end five years of war between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists.

Both leaders sat down at the French presidential palace in Paris along with the leaders of France and Germany for talks focused on reviving a 2015 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine that has largely stalled.

The four world leaders met at the Elysee Palace (Ian Langsdon/Pool via AP)
The four world leaders met at the Elysee Palace (Ian Langsdon/Pool via AP)

The war has killed 14,000 people since 2014, emboldened the Kremlin and reshaped European geopolitics, and Mr Zelenskiy, in particular, is keen for it to end.

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

But the fact that Mr Putin and Mr Zelenskiy met at all was a significant step after years of war. Mr Putin and Mr Zelenskiy faced each other across the table, flanked by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr Putin and Mr Zelenskiy are expected to hold a separate one-on-one meeting later.

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

The 2015 peace agreement helped to reduce the intensity of the fighting but Ukrainian soldiers and Russia-backed separatists have continued to exchange fire across First World War-style trenches along a front line that slices through eastern Ukraine.

Trump impeachment inquiry

While Mr Zelenskiy 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. The US is an important military backer for Ukraine, which is hugely outgunned by Russia.

While the US was never part of this peace process, US backing has strengthened Ukraine’s overall negotiating position with Russia in the past. Now that support is increasingly in doubt, after the Trump administration froze military aid earlier this year and is increasingly focused on Mr Trump’s re-election bid.

Some Ukrainians fear Mr Zelenskiy will be outmanoeuvred by Mr Putin. Several thousand protesters rallied in the Ukrainian capital on Sunday to urge Mr Zelenskiy not to make any concessions to Russia, and 100 opposition activists set up a tent camp outside his office with banners reading “No to capitulation”.

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