Russian President Vladimir Putin is “likely” for the first time to have a face-to-face duologue with Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy next month in Paris where a summit is planned with the leaders of France and Germany aimed at resolving the armed Donbas conflict.
“I think a separate meeting is becoming increasingly more likely,” top Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told journalists in Moscow on November 27. “After all, they will be in the same room, and it’s natural that they will talk to each other.”
French President Emmanuel Macron plans to host the four-way peace talks on December 9 with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin, and Zelenskiy.
The previous meeting between the four countries was in October 2016, which didn’t succeed in defusing the bloody 5-year conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.
Ushakov told reporters that the summit’s program was still being finalized.
While on an official visit to Lithuania the same day, Zelenskiy said he was ready for meetings with every state leader at the upcoming Paris summit known as the Normandy talks.
The United States said it was behind Ukraine and called on Russia to live up to its part of commitments in a 2015 road map for deescalating the conflict.
“Our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty is unwavering, and we are committed to working with our Allies and partners to keep pressure on Russia to live up to its commitments,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus praised the “prudent but difficult steps towards peace and reform” taken by Zelenskiy.
Bringing peace to the two war-torn easternmost Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk was a main campaign promise by Zelenskiy who ascended the presidency in May.
Zelenskiy, 41, has yet to meet with the 67-year-old Putin, though they’ve spoken on the phone four times, most recently on November 25 during which natural-gas transit was discussed but not the upcoming meeting.
A breakthrough for the Normandy talks to happen came on October 1 when Kyiv and Moscow agreed that Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces would withdraw from three frontline flashpoints in eastern Ukraine.
However, Zelenskiy said in Vilnius he has no illusions that the war would immediately end the next day after the Paris talks.
“But as president of Ukraine, I want a clear understanding [of] when and how we can stop this war,” he said.
Ukraine and its Western backers accuse Moscow of leading, commanding, equipping, fighting beside, and training the separatist forces in the Donbas.
Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, denies direct military involvement and has insisted that the Donbas conflict is purely a civil war.