PARIS: Russian leader Vladimir Putin met Ukranian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time ever at a Paris summit aimed at agreeing measures to help end five years of conflict in the east of Ukraine.
No comprehensive peace deal is expected from the meeting – mediated by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel – but diplomats hope the summit will help to bolster trust between the two men.
The four-way talks at the Elysee Palace are expected to be followed by a hotly-awaited bilateral between wily ex-KGB agent Putin – in power for two decades – and ex-comedian Zelensky who won the presidency this year.
Thousands have been killed and one million have fled their homes since pro-Russia militias in eastern Ukraine launched a bid for independence in 2014 – kicking off a conflict that deepened Russia’s estrangement from the West.
Separatists seized control of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions shortly after Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
The issue of Crimea, whose seizure gave Putin a popularity boost at home but led to international sanctions being imposed against Moscow, is not on the table at this summit.
The meeting’s aims include agreeing to disband illegal militias, the departure of foreign fighters from Donetsk and Lugansk, and Ukraine taking back control of its border with Russia, according to a French presidential source.
Also key is agreeing to a calendar for local municipal elections to be held in Donetsk and Lugansk under Ukrainian law, with the two regions enjoying special status — an idea known as the Steinmeier Formula.
“If the summit meeting is to be meaningful, it should have a result, and the result should very much be on the Steinmeier Formula,” said Gerhard Mangott, professor of international relations at Austria’s Innsbruck University.