Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky should hold direct talks with Russia-backed armed forces in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and stop calling them “separatists.” 

Putin made the comment in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, responding to a question about a rapid solution to the conflict in Donbas and the possibility of constructive dialogue with Ukraine after the country elected a new president. 

“It’s possible if Zelensky begins to fulfill his pre-election promises, including that of seeking direct dialogue with his fellow citizens in the Donbass (sic) and of ceasing to call them separatists,” Putin told Corriere Della Sera. “It’s possible if the Ukrainian authorities respect the Minsk Agreements, rather than ignoring them.”


The Russian president did not draw a distinction between pro-Russia fighters and people living in the conflict zone. His reference to ‘fellow citizens’ seemed to suggest that Zelensky views everyone there as separatists. However, Zelensky’s previous comments about the ‘separatists’ likely referred to the Russia-backed armed forces in the region.

During Zelensky’s state visit to France on June 17, an interpreter translated French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement to mean that the Ukrainian leader was ready to implement a ceasefire and engage in negotiations with the “separatists” in Donbas.

Zelensky corrected him, saying that the country is not ready for direct talks with the Donbas militants — whom he referred to as “separatists,” echoing Macron’s choice of words — but that it will act within the Minsk framework and is ready for a ceasefire. 

After Zelensky’s correction, Macron clarified that he was referring to dialogue with Ukrainian citizens living in the occupied territories.

Despite Putin’s allegations that Ukraine is ignoring the Minsk Agreements, Russia-backed forces in the Donbas region violate the Minsk Agreements — especially its ceasefire provisions — on a near-daily basis, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Ukrainian forces have also fired upon the Russia-backed militants. 


On July 1, Oleksandr Danylyuk, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told media that the prospects for a meeting between Zelensky and Putin are realistic. U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker said it would be necessary for Ukraine and Russia to have direct discussions. 

Zelensky has promised that he will try to end the war in Eastern Ukraine. But he also said that he plans to tell Putin that Crimea and Donbas are parts of Ukraine.

Both Zelensky and Putin told media that they would be ready to participate in the Normandy Format of peace talks, which includes Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. Zelensky said that he plans to hold a working meeting within the Normandy Format this month.

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