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Zelenskiy Invites Putin To Meet In The Donbas For Peace Talks

Fighting Escalates In Eastern Ukraine; One Ukrainian Soldier Killed
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WATCH: Fighting Escalates In Eastern Ukraine; One Ukrainian Soldier Killed

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has invited his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to meet him in eastern Ukraine for talks on calming tensions between the two countries.

"I go there every month. Mr. Putin. I am ready to go even further and invite you to meet anywhere in the Ukrainian Donbas, where the war is going on," Zelenskiy said in a video released on the presidential website on April 20, amid a Russian military buildup along the border with Ukraine and in occupied Crimea.

There was no immediate comment from Russian officials.

The United States and NATO say the Russian military buildup is the largest since 2014, when Moscow illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and backed separatists holding parts of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.

The Kremlin denies its military movements are a threat and maintains it's a sovereignty issue.

A fragile cease-fire negotiated last summer in eastern Ukraine has also unraveled in recent weeks, with nearly 30 Ukrainian soldiers killed since the start of the year.

Earlier on April 20, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for a new round of economic sanctions on Moscow to make it clear that there will be “dire consequences” if it continues its buildup of Russian troops.

“Moscow should hear from every corner, that it's not two sides, Ukraine and Russia, who bear responsibility for the escalation,” Kuleba said in a conference call with reporters. "History proves that only painful economic sanctions can make a difference.”

The cost of preventing Russia's further escalation will be lower than the cost of stopping it and mitigating its consequences, he said, adding that it is critically important to signal this now to influence calculations in Moscow.

The Ukrainian foreign minister said Russian troops continue to arrive near Ukraine’s borders and are expected to reach a combined force of more than 120,000 troops in about a week.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba

He said the military buildup includes paratroopers, electronic warfare systems, ballistic missiles, and other potentially offensive capabilities.

"This does not mean they will stop building up their forces at that number," Kuleba said.

Kuleba acknowledged that when he called for an increase in sanctions at a meeting with his EU counterparts during a videoconference on April 19, they did not show much interest, but he concluded that they understand that “sectoral sanctions are a matter of time and Russia's behavior.”

After the videoconference on April 19, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called on Russia to pull back its troops.

Borrell said no further sanctions were being proposed or under consideration. Diplomats suggested that for the moment the EU would seek to apply pressure on Russia through more diplomacy.

Top political advisers to the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany held separate talks under the so-called Normandy Format, but diplomats said they yielded no tangible results.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits the front line in the Mariupol region on April 9.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits the front line in the Mariupol region on April 9.

Kuleba also said he wanted a diplomatic solution but that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declined a request for talks.

The minister said that while Ukraine does not want conflict with Russia, the country has experienced Moscow's unpredictability under President Vladimir Putin.

"We in Ukraine have learned one thing about Putin's actions. This lesson is that anything can be expected from the Russian leadership," he said, pointing to Russia's annexation in 2014.

Kuleba also said Russia's military buildup is driven by Putin's desire to resolve the conflict in the Donbas in his country's favor by ultimatum and to bolster domestic support in the face of declining ratings.

He also wants to show that Russia can disregard Western condemnations over its "malign" activities, he said.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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