After a three-year freeze in negotiations over the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, a meeting is set for Monday at France's Élysée Palace.
The meeting will include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, German Chancellor Angela Merkeland French President Emmanuelle Macron, who will come together in the “Normandy format” – a reference to 2014 discussions among the countries that occurred on the margin of ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Macron and Merkel share the goal of reviving peace talks on the only active armed conflict in Europe, which has caused more than 13,000 deaths in eastern Ukraine since 2014. Tomorrow’s gathering will be the first meeting between Zelensky, in his first year as Ukraine’s president, and Putin, who has led Russia for most of the past 20 years.
Negotiations in Paris will focus on the content of the 2014-15 Minsk peace agreement, which provided for an immediate ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the restoration of Kiev's control over the border with Russia, and increased autonomy for territories under separatist control.
The accord took shape during the year after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine since 1954. While the agreement led to a significant reduction in violence, its political components have never been implemented.
Since Zelensky’s election victory in April, a kind of détente has taken place between Kiev and Moscow, symbolised by an exchange of 70 prisoners, the withdrawal of belligerent troops from three small areas on the front line, and the surrender of Ukrainian warships seized by Russia.
A former actor who is new to politics, Zelensky’s profile contrasts with that of his predecessor and rival during the last presidential election, Petro Poroshenko, who favoured a hard line against Russia.
Vladimir Putin had conceded "cautious optimism" on the issue of pro-Russian separatist regions after his first contacts with his Ukrainian counterpart.