Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has proposed holding talks with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to discuss the conflict in the east and Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, ahead of Ukraine’s July 21 parliamentary vote.
“I suggest the following line-up for talks: me, you, US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel [and] French President Emmanuel Macron,” Zelenskyy said, pushing for his earlier plan to change the format of the previous Minsk talks that included only Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.
Zelenskyy suggested discussing Russian-annexed Crimea and the five-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine where Ukrainian forces are battling Moscow-backed separatists. The conflict has killed more than 13,000 people, according to United Nations estimates.
“Let’s discuss who Crimea belongs to and who isn’t in the Donbass region,” Zelenskyy said, hinting at the fact that Russia denies there are Russians fighting in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, collectively referred to as Donbass.
Russia has presented itself as nothing more than an intermediary. Putin has previously spoken on behalf of the rebels at international peace talks.
Speaking after Monday’s talks with European Union leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker in Kiev, Zelenskyy said his government could consider lifting the economic blockade of the rebel areas if the separatists surrender control over the industrial assets they seized.
Russia was hesitant in its response to Zelenskyy’s proposal for the renewed peace talks, with Putin’s spokesman declining to respond to the plan.
“This is an absolutely new format. We need to understand whether there are prospects for this kind of talks, we need to understand what sort of a format is on offer. This is a new initiative. Certainly it will be considered, but I cannot give any response now,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, was quoted as saying by Russian state news agency TASS.
Meanwhile, Belarus, a close ally of Russia, said it would be ready to host a new round of Ukraine-Russia peace talks.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko “absolutely supports the proposal by Volodymyr Zelenskyy”, his office said in a statement.
“You cannot look at each other through gun sights. You need to sit down and solve the problems that have accumulated,” it said.
The statement also said that the conflict must be solved by the three Slavic nations – Ukraine, Russia and Belarus – but Lukashenko welcomed the participation of the United States in the talks.
“Not Europeans, not Americans, but we [must resolve the conflict] so that it is not frozen following the example of other hotspots in the post-Soviet space,” the statement said.
“It would be difficult to solve this problem without Americans, they are too immersed in these processes.”
In 2015, peace talks in Minsk resulted in the Minsk II ceasefire agreement.
The agreement has been continually violated by both sides, according to assessments by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which independently monitors the conflict.