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Ukraine's Zelenskyy invites Putin to meet in conflict zone

April 21, 2021

President Zelenskyy has invited Putin to meet him in eastern Ukraine for talks on ending the long-running conflict there. Kyiv has accused Russia of a massive troop buildup at the border.

Tanks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are seen during drills at an unknown location near the border of Russian-annexed Crimea
Image: General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine/via REUTERS

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for talks in the country's war-torn eastern region amid escalating tensions between the two nations .

"I am ready to go even further and invite you to meet in any part of the Ukrainian Donbas where war is ongoing," Zelenskyy said in an address to the nation.

He added that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators had discussed plans to travel to the trenches to assess the situation. 

Tensions along the border

Ukraine has accused Russia of a massive buildup of troops along its border, which Moscow says is a training exercise. The US Pentagon and the European Union have both confirmed the buildup. Germany and France have urged Russia to withdraw its troops.

"A considerable number of Russian troops are concentrated near our border. Officially, Russia calls this military exercises. Unofficially, the whole world calls such things blackmail," Zelenskyy said in his address. 

"The Russian president once said that if a fight is inevitable, you need to hit first. But every leader needs to understand that a fight must not be inevitable when it ... concerns a real war and millions of human lives," he added.

Russia in turn accused the United States and NATO of "provocative activity" in the Black Sea region.

Ukraine seeks diplomatic solution

Zelenskyy said that Ukraine wants to end the conflict through diplomacy but is ready to defend itself if attacked.

"Does Ukraine want the war? No. But is Ukraine ready for the war? Yes," he said.

Zelenskyy was elected in 2019 on the promise of ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian rebels have been waging an insurgency in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula. The conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

tg/nm (AFP, Reuters)

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