KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy voiced hope Monday for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to help defuse tensions in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Zelenskyy said he directed his chief of staff to contact the Kremlin to reach agreement on the time and venue for a possible meeting.
"It seems to me that everything indicates the meeting is going to be held," said Zelenskyy, who previously met the Russian leader during December 2019 talks in Paris that involved France and Germany.
Increasingly frequent cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been battling Russia-backed separatists for seven years, and a Russian troop buildup across the border in recent weeks have fueled fears of renewed hostilities and caused Ukrainian and Western worries.
The U.S. and NATO have said the troop buildup was the largest since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and threw its support behind separatists in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland of Donbas. More than 14,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting between Ukrainian troops and the Russia-backed separatists.
Russia rejected the complaints, arguing that it's free to deploy its forces anywhere it needs on its territory, but it finally announced Thursday that it would pull them back to their permanent bases by May 1 after completing sweeping maneuvers. The Russian Defense Ministry said the drawdown began on Friday.
Amid the tensions, Zelenskyy has offered the Russian leader to meet anywhere in Donbas.
Putin argued Thursday that to settle the conflict in the east, the Ukrainian leadership should first engage in talks with separatist leaders and only then discuss it with Russia. At the same time, he added that if the Ukrainian president wants to discuss normalizing ties with Russia, he's welcome to come to Moscow.
"It's the substance of the meeting that matters," Zelenskyy said, adding that the venue of the meeting is of secondary importance.
The Ukrainian leader also voiced hope that the parties could quickly agree to observe a cease-fire during Orthodox Easter, celebrated on Sunday.