The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France are meeting on Monday to discuss a peace settlement for Ukraine’s war-ravaged east for the first time in more than three years. Monday’s summit in Paris is also the first time that Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin, whom many in Ukraine hold personally responsible for the hostilities in the east. Mr Zelenskiy was elected in April this year and declared putting an end to the protracted armed conflict in the Donbass region one of his priorities. Just a few months into his presidency, Mr Zelenskiy negotiated a major prisoner swap with Mr Putin, which offered hopes for a breakthrough for the long-simmering conflict. Fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine’s industrial heartland has claimed more than 13,000 lives and displaced over a million people since it began in April 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. French President Emmanuel Macron (R) welcomes Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy Credit: AFP Ukraine, Russia and the separatists with the mediation of Germany and France signed peace accords in 2015, committing to a cease-fire and political settlement. Although the fighting did die down, the political settlement never fully materialised and large swathes of eastern Ukraine remain under separatist control. Mr Zelenskiy, a popular comedian who won the presidential vote by a landslide, comes into the talks in a weakened position after his country was dragged into an impeachment inquiry in the United States following a whistleblower complaint that US President Donald Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure Kiev into investigating a political rival. Mr Zelenskiy in the early months of his presidency tried to secure a White House meeting ahead of talks with Mr Putin but as the impeachment inquiry has showed, US officials instead approached his administration about looking into the work of Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s son in Ukraine. Mr Zelenskiy had a brief meeting with Mr Trump at the UN General Assembly in September but never had the full-format talks he had hoped for. Although opinion polls show that most Ukrainians favour a peaceful solution to the conflict in the east, many in Ukraine are worried that Mr Zelenskiy, a political novice compared to Mr Putin, would find himself making unpalatable concessions to Russia. Several thousand people rallied in the capital Kyiv on Sunday to press the president against what some fear might be tantamount to “capitulation” to Russia. Some activists pitched tents outside the presidential administration in Kyiv overnight in a warning to the Ukrainian leader ahead of the talks.
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