The Ukrainian president’s envoy for peace talks with Russia-backed separatists has stressed that Kyiv should not make unacceptable concessions to Russia.
Relations between Russia and Ukraine have been strained since 2014, when Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and began backing separatists in eastern Ukraine.
In his remarks on September 13, Leonid Kuchma said Kyiv cannot accept trade-offs, such as approving a plan for the separatists to hold elections in areas they control in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions without Ukrainian oversight.
"The talk about Donbas elections has been constant. What elections are you talking about when armed people keep walking around? Elections can be held after troops and heavy weaponry are out of Ukraine, when Ukrainian authorities are established, and when journalists are let in," Kuchma, Ukraine’s president from 1994 to 2005, was quoted as saying by Interfax.
A large prisoner swap between Moscow and Kyiv last weekend has revived hopes of peace talks to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine where more than 13,000 people have died in fighting since April 2014.
Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France – the so-called Normandy format of negotiations – last met in October 2016.
In other remarks to the AP news agency on September 13, Kuchma expressed concern that France and Germany may push Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to make such concessions.
"Zelenskiy will have a very hard time -- it will be one against three people," Kuchma said.
'Sanctions A Necessary Tax'
Zelenskiy, elected in April partly on promises to bring peace to Donbas, said on September 13 that a fresh round of peace talks would take place later this month.
"We look forward to seeing the leaders of the four countries in the 'Normandy' format," Zelenskiy said. "We are waiting for this meeting at the end of September. I think it will definitely take place."
Speaking at the Yalta European Strategy (YES) meeting in Kyiv, Zelenskiy said he expected those talks to focus on a road map for peace, including specific steps.
Zelenskiy said he expected another prisoner swap to build on the previous deal between Moscow and Kyiv, but that Ukraine had to tread carefully on proposals to send peacekeepers to the region.
He told the the YES meeting that he did not want the area to become like the breakaway Moldova region of Transdniester, where Russian troops are permanently stationed.
Zelenskiy also called for sanctions on Russia to remain in place, describing them as a necessary "tax". "If you like, this is a tax for the sake of peace, and until it is restored, the sanctions must be maintained."
Zelenskiy also said he planned to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump soon and thanked Washington for releasing a $250 military assistance package.
Trump extended an invitation to Zelenskiy several weeks ago but a date has not yet been set for the meeting.
The Ukrainian president said the countries' "diplomats are now agreeing on the final dates" and that it would happen before or after his visit to the United Nations General Assembly on September 23.