The frontline in Eastern Ukraine near Shumi. Photo: Emil Filtenborg

Zelensky wants to meet in Donbas, while Putin wants to meet in Moscow. It is unclear at this point whether a meeting will take place. 

The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky previously offered to meet the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Donbas near the frontline for talks about how to deescalate the current situation between Russia and Ukraine. Putin responded by inviting Zelensky to Moscow. Zelensky has now instructed his advisor, the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Andriy Yermak, to set up a meeting with the Russian President. 

“I indeed offered to meet in Donbas. The president of the Russian Federation confirmed his wish to meet, but in Moscow. I have instructed the head of the Office of the President to contact the Putin administration so that they could come to an agreement, find a venue or city where we could meet,” Zelensky said, according to the Ukrainian news outlet Unian, with rumors that Ukraine would be willing to meet a neutral place.

It is unclear at this point whether a meeting will take place and what will be possible to discuss at the meeting. Putin has said that Zelensky would need to discuss the war in Donbas with the leaders of the two separatist republics, Lugansk Peoples Republic and Donetsk Peoples Republic because Russia sees the war as an internal Ukrainian civil war. It is something that Zelensky is unwilling to do.

More countries in Normandie Format

Ukraine and Russia are negotiating peace in Donbas in two instances. First of all, in the Minsk Format, consisting of Ukraine, Russia, and representatives of the two separatist republics. Secondly, in the so-called Normandie Format with Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia. In a recent statement, Zelensky expressed hope that the U.S., UK, and Canada could join the Normandie Format. 

“I’m now participating in the process that was designed before my time,” said Zelensky to Financial Times, “The Minsk process should be more flexible in this situation. It should serve the purposes of today, not of the past.”

“There are two options: we can change the Minsk format, adjust it. Or we can use some other format—the speed matters. The pace of this process matters because we are losing people every day,” he said.

Russia denies changing anything

In response, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia finds Zelenskys thoughts for an “alarming sign.”

“I take this opportunity to say that it makes sense to pay attention to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s interview to the Financial Times. In that interview, the Ukrainian president said he would like to see changes made to the Minsk format, some other countries join in, and so on and so forth,” Peskov said to Tass

“This is an alarming sign. We have said more than once that it is a no easy situation. This is one more indication at the summit level of Ukraine’s wish to change the Minsk process, but there is no way of changing it without in fact terminating it.”

Zelensky: Military threat persists

The recent talk about a meeting between Zelensky and Putin comes after several weeks of high tensions. Russia has built up troops near the Ukrainian border, and several world leaders have been worried about the possibility of a new war breaking out. 

Last week, Russia decided to pull back its troops, which it said was there for military drills only. However, they are reporting to have left military equipment such as tanks and ships behind. That makes Zelensky point out that the threat of a Russian attack persists and that Ukraine needs to be ready if something happens. 

“There is a persistent threat, of course, because we are having a war, especially in the Donbas area, and the Russian army, we all know it, is a very powerful force. So we have it continuously at our borders. And this particular case is a case of psychological pressure. We are ready here for some unpleasant surprises. We’ll try to avoid them. Our military is very strong, and we are prepared to deter any kind of threat of aggression,” Zelensky said, according to Unian