Putin urges Ukraine's Zelensky to stick to peace plan

Putin urges Ukraine's Zelensky to stick to peace plan

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony for newly appointed foreign ambassadors to Russia, at the Kremlin in Moscow. (Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS)

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky to stick to peace agreements to de-escalate the five-year conflict between Kiev forces and Moscow-backed separatists, the Kremlin said in a blunt statement on Friday (Feb 14).

Putin and Zelensky discussed the settlement of the conflict, the Kremlin said, adding that Putin stressed the importance of the "complete and unconditional implementation" of Western-brokered peace agreements.

"Vladimir Putin has posed a direct question - does Kiev intend to implement Minsk agreements in earnest," the Kremlin said.

France and Germany helped broker the so-called Minsk agreements in the Belarusian capital but they are poorly observed and the peace process has essentially ground to a halt.

The 2015 deal calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the restoration of Kiev's control over its borders, wider autonomy for separatist-held regions of Donetsk and Lugansk and the holding of local elections.

But Ukraine's newly-appointed chief of Zelensky's staff, Andriy Yermak, this week cast doubt on the possibility of holding elections in eastern Ukraine in the presence of "illegal armed" groups and without Kiev controlling the borders in the east.

Yermak, a close Zelensky ally, has led talks on Russia and a source in the Ukrainian presidency has told AFP that he will remain the main negotiator with Moscow.

Zelensky, a 42-year-old comedian with no previous political experience, won a landslide victory in Ukraine last year on pledges to end the conflict and improve ties with Russia.

He and Putin met for the first time during a Western-mediated summit in Paris in December.

On Friday, Putin and Zelensky also discussed a further troop pullback in eastern Ukraine and demining operations, the Kremlin said.

"Readiness was expressed to continue efforts aimed at the release and exchange" of people held by Russia and Ukraine, the Kremlin added.

Kiev for its part said Friday the talks with Putin focused on preparations for a new summit, adding the two leaders agreed to ramp up the work of negotiators to implement the existing agreements.

RELEASE OF PRISONERS

"Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin paid special attention to the process of releasing Ukrainian citizens being held" in Russia, Crimea and Ukraine's separatist-controlled regions, Kiev added.

Zelensky managed to negotiate a long-awaited swap with Russia that saw the two countries exchange a total of 70 prisoners in September.

Zelensky and Putin last spoke by phone on Dec 31.

The Kremlin announced this week it had appointed a new pointman for Ukraine who is seen as a less divisive figure than his predecessor.

The move could herald a new phase in the talks, a French presidential official has said.

Ties between Ukraine and Russia were shredded after a bloody uprising ousted a Kremlin-backed regime in 2014.

Moscow went on to annex Crimea and support insurgents in eastern Ukraine. More than 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict, Europe's only active war.

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