KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine needs direct talks with Moscow in order to end the war against Russian-backed forces in its eastern Donbass region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday.
Zelenskiy was addressing parliament after Ukraine urged NATO to prepare economic sanctions on Russia and boost military cooperation with Kyiv as a way of deterring the Kremlin from launching a new attack after massing troops.
Ukraine and its NATO allies have sounded the alarm about Russian troop movements near Ukraine’s borders this year, sparking worries that a simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine could erupt into open war between the two neighbours.
Russia accuses Ukraine and the United States of destabilising behaviour and dismissed talk of a new Russian assault as false and inflammatory. It began a new round of military exercises near Ukraine’s border on Wednesday.
“We must tell the truth that we will not be able to stop the war without direct negotiations with Russia, and today this has already been recognised by all, all external partners,” Zelenskiy said.
Zelenskiy’s administration says it has tried to arrange in-person talks between the president and Russian leader Vladimir Putin but that its requests were ignored.
The Kremlin has said President Putin is not against the idea of talks with Zelenskiy, but that talks for the sake of talks are pointless and that Moscow would want to see a proper agenda prepared for a meeting.
“I am not afraid of a direct conversation with them, we are not afraid of a direct dialogue, we know which of the European countries support Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said.
Zelenskiy was speaking in parliament that was surrounded by heavy security of police and national guard officers. Zelenskiy last week said Ukraine had uncovered a plot to overthrow his government that was meant to launch on Wednesday. Russia has denied any involvement.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine in a war that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Toby Chopra)