Talks about meeting with Putin under way, Ukraine’s Zelenskyi says

Kiev/Moscow, May 20 (EFE).- Ukraine’s president Volodymir Zelenskyi said Thursday his office had begun talks with Moscow about a possible meeting with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, although an agreement had not yet been reached.

“Talks between the Ukraine president’s office and the Russian president have begun,” he told a press conference in Kiev.

In April, Zelenskyi proposed a meeting with the Russian president “anywhere” in the Donbas region, where the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists have been engaged in a deadly armed conflict since 2014.

Putin replied two days later that he was ready to receive Zelenskyi in Moscow to discuss bilateral relations, but in order to discuss the conflict he must meet with the pro-Russian leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

“In these circumstances, meetings usually take place either in the conflict zone or in a neutral place,” Zelenskyi said.

Moscow says it is not party to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed the lives of more than 14,000 people, according to the UN, while Kiev calls Russia an aggressor state and describes the territories as temporarily occupied.

The granting of Russian passports to residents of the separatist-controled territories of the Donbas is a step toward a de-facto annexation of the region, according to Zelenskyi.

“It is the first step. The same thing happened before in Crimea,” Zelenskyi said, referring to the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

At a press conference marking his two years in office, Zelenskyi said that a draft law to tackle oligarchs would be presented in parliament next week and that countering the influence of oligarchs was his priority.

“Our number one priority is to build the country without oligarchs. I think you can already see some results that I have been preparing for a long time. We are building the country for 40 million people, and not for Forbes 100 richest people,” Zelenskyi said.

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