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Ukraine, France, Germany, And Russia Meet To Discuss Leaders Summit

By RFE/RL April 19, 2021

Top advisers to the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany will hold consultations on April 19 to chart a path for a possible summit aimed at easing tensions in eastern Ukraine.

The talks come after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week called on Russia to reverse a troop buildup near the Ukrainian border and in occupied Crimea amid concerns over Moscow's intentions.

Speaking to journalists after EU foreign ministers were briefed by Ukraine's foreign minister, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said more than 150,000 Russian troops had massed along the Ukrainian border and in the Crimean Peninsula.

"The risk of further escalation is evident," said Borrell, who did not disclose the source of the figure.

A fragile cease-fire negotiated last summer in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Moscow-backed separatists has also unraveled in recent weeks, leaving at least 30 Ukrainian soldiers killed since the start of the year.

On April 19, the army said in a statement that one Ukrainian soldier was killed and another wounded after their positions were attacked with automatic grenade launchers on April 18.

Zelenskiy has said he is seeking four-way talks under the so-called Normandy Format, involving Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany. France and Germany have been mediators in the Ukraine conflict since 2015.

To prepare for a possible summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Zelenskiy met Macron in Paris on April 16. The two were later joined by Merkel via video link.

The German Chancellery said in a statement after the three-way talks that the sides shared concerns about the Russian troop buildup and "demanded the withdrawal of these reinforcements to reach a deescalation."

The United States and NATO say the Russian military buildup is the largest since 2014, when Moscow forcibly seized Crimea and backed separatists in the east of Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.

The Kremlin denies its military movements are a threat and says they're a sovereign issue.

Zelenskiy said in Paris that the goal of the political advisers' meeting is to revive implementation of the so-called Minsk agreements aimed at reaching a durable cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, leading to steps toward a political solution to the conflict.

"The cease-fire initially worked. Now we are waiting for the restoration after the meeting of advisers," he said of an arrangement reached last summer.

He also said he desired progress on an "all for all" prisoner exchange with separatist forces in the east of the country.

Ukraine's position is that a cease-fire is a basic precondition for the implementation of the Minsk agreements and would pave the way for the implementation of other difficult provisions of the agreements, such as local elections in the separatist-controlled Donbas and control over the Ukrainian-Russian border.

Failure to advance Normandy Format talks may exacerbate tensions over Ukraine at a time when relations between the West and Russia are already deteriorating over a host of other issues, including the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine -france-germany-russia-discuss- leaders-summit/31210897.html

Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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