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Putin, Zelenskiy Discuss Another Prisoner Swap, Exchange New Year Wishes

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Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Vladimir Putin meet on December 9 in Paris.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to discuss another prisoner swap as tensions ease between the two neighbors.

The two leaders also exchanged holiday greetings, according to a statement by Zelenskiy’s press service that was later confirmed by the Kremlin. The call was initiated by Zelenskiy, according to the Kremlin's readout.

It is the first time in six years that Putin has exchanged holiday greetings with his Ukrainian counterpart and testifies to a gradual thaw in relations between the two adversaries.

The Kremlin on December 30 published a list of countries whose leaders Putin had sent holiday wishes to. That list did not include Ukraine.

New Year’s is one of the most important holidays in former Soviet countries and the lack of a greeting can be seen as a snub.

Putin expressed a positive opinion about Zelenskiy during a meeting with business leaders last week, saying the Ukrainian leader was trying to build dialogue with Russia, Forbes reported, citing one of the participants. However, Putin said he did not expect a breakthrough, the business news magazine added.

The Kremlin's relationship with Ukraine has been hostile ever since protests in Kyiv led to the overthrow of the nation’s pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula shortly thereafter and backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, sparking a war in the Donbas region that has resulted in more than 13,000 deaths.

Reinvigorated Process

Zelenskiy, a political novice who won a landslide victory in April on a promise to end the war, has reinvigorated the moribund peace process with Russia.

Zelenskiy reached an agreement with Putin on their first prisoner exchange in September, less than four months after taking power, with each side swapping 35 individuals later that month.

Following the December 9 peace talks in Paris with the heads of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France -- the first of its kind in three years -- Zelenskiy and Putin approved another prisoner swap on December 29.

However, those exchanges did not include Ukrainians held in Crimea.

During their December 31 call, the two leaders agreed "to immediately proceed" to approve lists for the release of Ukrainians, including Crimeans, held in Crimea and Russia, and Russians held in Ukraine, Zelenskiy's press service said in a statement.

The Kremlin readout made no mention of a new prisoner exchange.

Ukraine has confirmation that 100 Ukrainians are still being held captive in the nongovernment-controlled parts of the Donbas, according to Valeriya Lutkovska, Ukraine's envoy to a humanitarian negotiation group attached to the peace process.

Kyiv believes another 200 Ukrainians are held in captivity but no documentation is available for them, she said.

Putin and Zelenskiy also expressed hope to complete the cease-fire agreement reached in Paris "in the near future," the Ukrainian president's statement said.

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