Ukraine leader hopes for talks with Russia amid tensions

Dec 10, 2021, 2:10 PM | Updated: 2:19 pm

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s president said Friday that more opportunities for talks with Russia may arise thanks to the U.S. diplomatic effort to help de-escalate tensions after Moscow massed troops near Ukraine’s border, stoking fears of a possible invasion.

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with both Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, as the United States moved to take a more direct role in diplomacy between Kyiv and Moscow.

The U.S. president proposed joining the Europeans in negotiations not just to settle the conflict in eastern Ukraine but to address Putin’s larger strategic objections to NATO expanding its membership eastwards.

In an interview aired Friday by the Ukrainian TV channel 1+1, Zelenskyy said that, “thanks to the U.S.,” one more platform for talks with Russia may appear, in addition to the so-called Normandy format that involves France and Germany.

The two European countries in 2015 brokered a peace agreement that helped end large-scale hostilities in Ukraine’s east, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting with Russia-backed separatists since 2014. But efforts to reach a political settlement of the conflict that has since killed more than 14,000 people have failed, and sporadic skirmishes have continued along the tense line of contact.

Zelenskyy said Friday that, with the support of the U.S. and Ukraine’s European allies, he doesn’t rule out direct talks between him and Putin — something he has proposed to the Russian leader several times to no avail.

“I see the support for this path from both our European partners and the U.S.,” Zelenskyy said.

Tensions between Moscow, Kyiv and its Western allies have worsened in recent weeks over the invasion fears.

Russian officials have repeatedly denied plans to attack Ukraine, and in turn blamed Kyiv for its own allegedly aggressive designs. Putin has urged the West to provide guarantees that would preclude NATO from expanding to Ukraine or deploying troops and weapons there.

Zelenskyy said Friday that the message he got from Biden during Thursday’s call was the “Russia assured the U.S. and the whole world that it doesn’t intend to continue the escalation against the territory of our independent state.”

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Ukraine leader hopes for talks with Russia amid tensions