Zelenskiy, Putin, Macron, Merkel Hold Ukraine Talks in Paris

Elias Hubbard
December 10, 2019

The leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russian Federation met in Paris for five and a half hours of talks on Monday, producing at the day's end a joint communique that said all parties would "commit to a full and comprehensive implementation" of a ceasefire in Ukraine by the end of the year. Pro-Russia separatists still engage in armed skirmishes with pro-Ukraine forces, with the United Nations saying approximately 13,000 have been killed since the war began five years ago.

However, Putin and Zelenskiy, who met for the first time face-to-face, had failed to resolve crucial issues such as a timeline for local elections in eastern Ukraine and the borders in the region that Kyiv doesn't control.

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 World War I-style trenches along a front line that slices through eastern Ukraine.

Zelensky sought to assuage fears Putin would take advantage of his inexperience - he was a professional comedian and actor before unseating Poroshenko in the last election, famous in Ukraine for starring in a TV show about a regular guy who stumbles into the presidency - by comparing the past five years of deadlock to running on a treadmill.

There is public support for peace talks in Ukraine, and Zelenskiy is under significant pressure: as he headed to Paris his opponents rallied in Kyiv, warning him to not capitulate to Putin.

As a matter of fact, what's behind the Russia-Ukraine conflict is the gambling between Russia and the U.S. Although U.S. President Donald Trump is caught in a political scandal with Ukraine, the domestic consensus on supporting Ukraine has not been questioned, because providing military and economic aid to Kiev and making efforts to resist Russia on Ukraine's territory is the U.S.' fundamental diplomatic stance toward Ukraine. With the conclusion of the "Minsk Protocol" as a "comprehensive" protocol on July 18, Russian Federation and Ukraine suspended their military confrontation in Donbass.

'Russia started the war, and any negotiations with the aggressor elicit our suspicion and vigilance, especially when we're being forced into peace on Russian terms, ' one protester, 21-year-old student Igor Derbunov, told The Associated Press.

But with progress stalled on the ground, the leaders haven't met since 2016. With U.S. influence waning around the world, many in Kyiv see one clear victor: Russian Federation.

The separatists seized control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions shortly after Russia's annexation of Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula. This will undoubtedly make it easier for Russian Federation to maintain its military presence and political control in the two separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine.

An end to the conflict in the region known as the Donbass could also lead to the eventual lifting of EU sanctions against Russian Federation linked to the eastern Ukraine fighting, which the Kremlin and European businesses have pushed for.

Macron and Merkel said they agreed to intensify the monitoring by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is now only active for 12 hours a day and conduct it 24 hours a day. As the confrontation between the US and Russian Federation escalates, in particular, the abolition of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty directly affects the strategic stability in Europe, and the turbulent situation in eastern Ukraine poses a threat to the security of Europe.

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.

Karmanau reported from Kyiv.

NPR Correspondent Lucian Kim contributed reporting from Moscow.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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