Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has told European Union leaders that Ukraine is ready for talks with Russia in any format but urged Western countries to keep pressure on Moscow through sanctions.
Zelenskiy spoke on December 15 in Brussels after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on the sidelines of an EU summit.
Macron’s office said the meeting sought to find ways to restart negotiations in the Normandy format that involves France and Germany.
"The three leaders reaffirmed their commitment to this format of negotiations in order to find a lasting solution for the conflict and to preserve Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Macron’s office added.
Zelenskiy said at a news conference that Ukraine is ready for talks in the Normandy format or any other. He said his delegation also explained Ukraine’s belief about sanctions to its European colleagues.
“What our state cares about is a strong sanctions policy that comes before a likely escalation,” he said.
“Only this type of relations based on precautionary measures can really stop the military conflict that has been ongoing in the east of our country for eight years now,” he said.
Zelenskiy spoke after EU leaders met with members of the Eastern Partnership program as the bloc attempts to rescue its outreach to the former Soviet republics in the program amid heightened tensions with Moscow.
The Eastern Partnership program, which seeks closer cooperation between the EU and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, was to meet on December 15 with the 27 heads of the EU a day before a full EU summit.
The leaders of three of the countries -- Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova -– have lobbied for the start to negotiations to formally join the bloc, but they are expected to win only reassurances of support.
The desire of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine to join the bloc are complicated by territorial disputes with Moscow. That is especially true for Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists are continuing a military conflict in its eastern territory that started in 2014, weeks after Russia illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
Georgia and Moldova also have Russian troops deployed in regions on their soil. In addition, Georgia is going through a political crisis, and Moldova's economy is suffering from a hike in gas prices that Brussels sees as orchestrated by Moscow.
Belarus suspended its participation in the Eastern Partnership in June after criticism from the EU of leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka's disputed 2020 reelection.
But the current buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine's border is the main issue alarming EU leaders. They have joined the United States in warning Russia against invading its neighbor. Though Moscow denies having any plans to do so, tensions remain high.
Zelenskiy also met with European Council President Charles Michel, saying afterward that Ukraine’s goal is full membership of the European Union.
The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan are attending the summit but are not seeking EU membership. They met with Michel to discuss ways to overcome tensions and advance diplomacy following last year’s war between the two countries.
Zelenskiy said the atmosphere of the dialogue “was quite positive” and he congratulated the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as Michel.
“We believe that something like this will also happen one day with the war between Ukraine and Russia -- between our countries,” Zelenskiy said.