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Putin and Zelensky discuss Ukraine conflict in first phone call

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with his newly elected Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, for the first time in a phone call on Thursday, the Kremlin confirmed.

Moscow, 11 July 2019 (dpa/MIA) – Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with his newly elected Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, for the first time in a phone call on Thursday, the Kremlin confirmed.

The two discussed the Ukraine conflict, according to the Kremlin, hours after Putin had suggested that he was open to holding peace talks after Kiev holds parliamentary elections later this month.

The possible continuation of talks within the so-called Normandy format – Ukraine, Russia and brokers Germany and France – was discussed, according to the Russian side, as was prisoner exchanges.

The Kremlin added that Kiev had initiated the phone call. Ukraine also confirmed the phone call took place in a separate statement.

Zelensky had earlier proposed conducting peace talks with Putin, which the Russian leader did not immediately rule out, though with the prerequisite that such a meeting would need much preparation.

A summit with the four leaders of the Normandy participants could only happen once Ukraine holds parliamentary elections on July 21, said Putin.

Putin also said Thursday that it would be possible to widen the circle of participants, reacting to Zelensky’s suggestion that, as well as France and Germany, the leaders of the United States, Britain and Belarus could attend the talks, which he said could be hosted in Minsk.

Belarus subsequently welcomed the proposal.

Ukraine’s military has been battling Russian-backed separatists near the Russian border in eastern Ukraine for the past five years.

Zelensky, inaugurated as president two months ago, has made resolving the conflict his top priority.

Russia has denied direct involvement in the conflict and presented itself as only an intermediary. Putin has previously spoken on behalf of the rebels at international peace talks.

About 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to estimates by the United Nations. The conflict erupted in 2014 after Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian president in a pivot towards the West.

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