Kiev, 6 December 2019 (dpa/MIA) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited troops in the war-torn region of Donetsk, near the Russian border, on Friday ahead of a summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin next week.
Zelensky, whose first priority as president is to end the five-year conflict with Russian-supported rebel groups, praised Ukraine’s armed forces as the guarantor of the country’s independence.
“It is you and only you who are the precondition of our freedom, our independence and the development of Ukraine,” Zelensky said in a speech, excerpts of which were published on his website.
Zelensky is to meet with Putin in Paris on Monday to discuss efforts to resolve the conflict, which started in 2014 after Kiev ousted its pro-Russian president in a political pivot towards the West.
While Putin’s government has repeatedly denied allegations of direct involvement in the conflict, Putin represents the rebels in international peace talks brokered by France and Germany.
Putin has admitted to Russian forces occupying another Ukrainian region, Crimea, on the Black Sea, in response to the ouster.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in comments carried by state media that the Russian leader would meet individually with Zelensky, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, on the sidelines of their four-way summit.