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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Leaders of Ukraine, France, Germany holding security talks

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Paris on Friday for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel amid his country’s growing tensions with neighboring Russia, which has deployed troops near its border with Ukraine.

Zelenskyy and his wife, Olena, were greeted by Macron and his wife, Brigitte, before lunch at the Elysee presidential palace. The two heads of state plan to meet with Merkel by videoconference, Macron’s office said.

The talks come as Ukraine and the West have sounded alarms in recent weeks about the concentration of troops along Russia’s western border, a buildup that the U.S. and NATO have described as the largest there since 2014. Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have been fighting in eastern Ukraine for seven years.

“Our goal…is to de-escalate tensions,” a French official at the French presidency said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the talks. “All the work we’re doing is in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” the official said.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Zelenskyy said security issues were on the meeting’s agenda.

“Europe’s security is depending on Ukraine’s security,” he told the newspaper, adding that his country is seeking support from the European Union and NATO.

“It’s time to stop talking and to make decisions,” Zelenskyy said.

More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which erupted after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled, and violations of a shaky truce have become increasingly frequent in recent weeks.

The Kremlin said it hoped Macron and Merkel would persuade Zelenskyy to observe the cease-fire agreement and implement a 2015 peace deal for eastern Ukraine that was signed in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

The Kremlin expects the French and German leaders to “use their influence and convey the need to resolutely stop any provocative actions along the line of control and emphasize the importance of the unconditional observation of the cease-fire,” Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said Friday.

Zelenskyy said Thursday after chairing a meeting of Ukraine’s security council that the discussions in Paris would be important to preparing for more talks involving the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany.

Their last meeting in Paris in December 2019 helped ease tensions but failed to make any progress on a political settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

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