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Ukraine's Zelenskiy Calls On Putin To Meet Face-To-Face For Talks

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Ukrainiam President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy (combo photo)

KYIV -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to talk.

In a July 8 video statement on Facebook, Zelenskiy said he was ready to hold talks with Putin in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

"We need to talk? We do. Let us discuss who Crimea belongs to and who is not there in Donbas," Zelenskiy said, adding that he wanted the leaders of the United States, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom present at the talks.

Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014. Shortly thereafter, Moscow began supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, a region known as the Donbas, in a conflict in which some 13,000 people have been killed since April 2014.

Russia has denied its involvement in the Donbas conflict.

Zelenskiy later said that Ukraine was "moving toward a sustainable cease-fire."

Zelenskiy said at a summit with top European Union officials on July 8 that peace can be returned to Ukraine only by way of diplomatic negotiations.

"We want to stop this war, and we want to return peace to Ukraine," he continued. "But this can be done with only one weapon: diplomacy."

He also said that sanctions must be upheld against Russia until Ukraine's territorial integrity is restored.

"Sanctions policy is the last civilized tool to achieve peace," he added.

"If someone still has any questions or doubts about continuing the sanctions, I invite everyone to Donbas to see how much grief this war has caused," Zelenskiy said.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters in Moscow that the Kremlin will consider Zelenskiy's call for talks with Putin, but added that he was "not prepared" to respond at the moment.

"First, we need to understand whether such a meeting has any prospects, and second, we need to understand what kind of new format is being offered," Peskov said.

Zelenskiy's video statement comes amid concerns voiced by Ukrainian politicians and activists regarding the television "bridge" proposed by Russia's state-owned Rossia-1 channel and Ukraine's NewsOne television network, which is associated with Viktor Medvedchuk, the head of Ukraine's pro-Kremlin Opposition Platform -- For Life party.

On July 7, a Russian state TV presenter known for his fiery anti-Western diatribes, Dmitry Kiselyov, announced that the direct Russian-Ukrainian TV link called We Need To Talk would be held on July 12.

Zelenskiy called the project "a cheap and dangerous PR tool " ahead of the snap parliamentary elections scheduled for July 21.

He said that the purpose of the show was "to divide" Ukrainians into "two camps," pro-Russian and pro-EU, ahead of the polls.

He also said that the program might be used by Russia to present Ukrainians as a "junta" with whom there is no way to have a dialogue and who violate "freedom of speech."

Meanwhile, NewsOne announced shortly after Zelenskiy's video-statement that it decided to cancel the show due to "threats."

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko said on Facebook on July 8 that a criminal investigation had been launched into "attempted high treason" in connection with the plan to organize the teleconference.

Marathon "bridge" programs became very popular in the final years of the Soviet Union, when, in the wake of Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms, ordinary Soviet and American citizens could talk via satellite connections during live broadcasts.

With reporting by TASS, UNIAN, Gordon, and Interfax
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