KIEV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday (Sep 13) warned the West against lifting sanctions on Russia as France pushes for rapprochement with Moscow.
But speaking on the sidelines of an annual forum in the capital Kiev, the 41-year-old leader told AFP that he had a "feeling" that Russian President Vladimir Putin was ready to improve ties with Ukraine.
Addressing the Yalta European Strategy (YES) forum, Zelensky said that some of Ukraine's Western partners have considered lifting sanctions against Russia.
"Sometimes they think about lifting sanctions. You are losing money. Seriously?
"I am sorry but we are losing people," Zelensky said, referring to Russia's annexation of Crimea and the Moscow-backed separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.
"Essentially, sanctions are a tax needed to maintain world order. A peace tax, if you will. And you know in the civilised world it's normal to pay taxes," he said.
"Sanctions should remain" until peace was restored in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky added.
In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and supported a separatist insurgency in Ukraine's industrial east. The conflict between Russia-backed fighters and Ukrainian troops has killed more than 13,000 people.
In response, the West has imposed sweeping economic sanctions targeting the Russian oil, defence and banking sectors as well as Russian officials over their alleged involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
On Thursday, the European Union extended by six months sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials while economic penalties were extended in June.
French President Emmanuel Macron has in recent weeks pushed for a review of ties with Russia, indicating that more sanctions against Moscow were not in France's interests.
In a keynote speech to French ambassadors in late August, Macron said: "The European continent will never be stable, will never be secure, if we don't pacify and clarify our relations with Russia."
'GETTING CRIMEA BACK'
Attempts to resolve the Ukraine crisis have been revived since the election in April of comedian-turned-president Zelensky.
The political novice fulfilled a key campaign promise by getting 35 detainees held by Russia sent home in a historic prisoner swap last weekend.
Paris has called for a new Ukraine summit of Putin, Zelensky and the French and German leaders to take place later this month.
Asked by AFP on the forum's sidelines if Putin was ready to make concessions, Zelensky said: "I don't know so far. I will understand this at our first meeting."
But he also said he had a "feeling" that Putin was ready to improve ties.
That feeling was based "on many things," he said. "From our (phone) calls to the political situation in the world on the whole."
Zelensky told the conference that work was under way to prepare a new prisoner swap with Russia.
He also said he would push for the return of Crimea but admitted it would be "the most complicated" issue.
"I'll be honest, we are thinking about it. We have several ideas," he said, declining to provide further details.
"We will fight to get Crimea back."
Zelensky added that he expected to meet with US President Donald Trump in Washington later this month.
The Kremlin has repeatedly said the return of Crimea to Ukraine is out of the question.