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Ukrainian President's New Chief Of Staff Says Room For Compromise With Russia

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Who Is Andriy Yermak, Ukraine's New Chief Of Staff?
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KYIV -- The new head of Ukraine's presidential administration has signaled there is room for compromise in talks on ending the war with Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country, a day after Moscow replaced a hard-line point man on the issue with a Ukrainian-born official in the Kremlin.

Andriy Yermak told reporters in Kyiv on February 12, a day after his appointment, that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's team will continue to work on stopping the war in eastern Ukraine, where some areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, known as the Donbas, have been under the separatists' control since April 2014.

"There can certainly be compromises during the negotiations," Yermak said. "But we have talked about this many times, and I also want to add that I am ready and will continue to do this: speak with all patriotic, competent, reasonable forces in this country."

However, a second face-to-face meeting between Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the seven-year-old war might be pushed back given the respective government personnel changes in Moscow and Kyiv, a French presidential official, who asked not to be named, told reporters on February 12.

Putin recently appointed close ally Dmitry Kozak as his point man on Ukraine, sidelining hard-liner Vladislav Surkov.

"These changes are going to stretch out the calendar a bit," the French presidential official said.

Putin and Zelenskiy last met on December 9 in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in attendance as mediators.

The much-anticipated meeting failed to bring an end to the conflict.

After the meeting, though, Zelenskiy and Putin announced they had agreed to meet again in four months.

Yermak's appointment raised some eyebrows in Ukraine from those who fear he may soften Kyiv's position toward Russia, especially amid the current thaw in relations that included major prisoner swaps late last year that Yermak was involved with in his role as an aide to Zelenskiy.

Looking to allay those concerns, the 48-year-old former film producer and lawyer stressed at the news conference that Crimea, which was forcefully seized and annexed by Russia in March 2014, and the Donbas were "Ukrainian territories" and that elections in the areas controlled by the separatists scheduled for October "must be held under Ukrainian legislation."

He also didn't rule out the possibility that Zelenskiy might meet with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, but added that a decision on that would be made by the president himself.

"If [Zelenskiy] considers such a meeting [with Putin] necessary, that it may be a step to achieve real results in the Normandy peace-format summit, then we do not rule out a [Zelenskiy-Putin] meeting," Yermak said.

Even before his appointment on February 11, Yermak's name was sprinkled throughout the media after he was linked to U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani.

Evidence and testimony gathered during Trump's recent impeachment hearing shows Giuliani met with Yermak to "strongly" urge an investigation Trump wanted of Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son's ties to Ukrainian energy firm Burisma.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives impeached Trump in December for allegedly withholding security assistance for Ukraine to force an investigation, only the third such hearing against a president in the country's history.

Yermak took only five questions at the news conference, and none of them were related to the impeachment case or Giuliani.

He did comment, however, on the appointment of Dmitry Kozak, the deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, to handle relations with Kyiv, sidelining hard-liner Vladislav Surkov.

"I have not spoken to Mr. Kozak since his appointment and my appointment," Yermak said.

"But regardless of who represents the Russian Federation in the negotiations in Minsk or in the Normandy format, the principles declared by President Zelenskiy are unchanged," he added.

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