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Paris Summit Seeks Ukraine War Solution12/09 06:18

   PARIS (AP) -- A long-awaited summit in Paris on Monday is aiming to find a 
way to end the war in Ukraine, after five years and 14,000 lives lost in a 
conflict that has emboldened the Kremlin and reshaped European geopolitics.

   The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France are holding a series of 
meetings at the Elysee Palace to try to revive a 2015 peace deal that's gone 
largely ignored, as Ukrainian soldiers and Russia-backed separatists continue 
to exchange fire across World War I-style trenches along the front line slicing 
through eastern Ukraine.

   A major breakthrough is unlikely, but whatever happens, the summit is the 
biggest test yet for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who won the 
presidency this year in a landslide -- partly on promises to end the war.

   Monday's summit notably includes the first face-to-face meeting between 
Zelenskiy, a comic actor and political novice, with Russian President Vladimir 

   While Zelenskiy still enjoys broad public support, he has been  embarrassed 
by the scandal around his discussions with U.S. President Donald Trump that 
unleashed an impeachment inquiry. The U.S. is an important military backer for 
Ukraine, which is hugely out-gunned by Russia.

   Some Ukrainians fear Zelenskiy will surrender too much to Putin in Monday's 
meetings, and around 100 opposition activists set up protest tents outside 
government buildings Monday in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Activists are 
offering free food in the tents and building a stage in front of Zelenskiy's 
office, with banners reading "No to capitulation!"

   "Russia started the war, and any negotiations with the aggressor elicit our 
suspicion and vigilance, especially when we're being forced into peace on 
Russian terms," one of the protesters, 21-year-old student Igor Derbunov, told 
The Associated Press. 

   "Any secret agreements with the Kremlin behind our backs will lead to 
protests all over Ukraine," said Denis Krutinskiy, a 36-year-old former 

   Russia wants to use the summit to increase pressure on Zelenskiy to fulfill 
the 2015 Minsk peace accord, which gives the rebel-held regions more autonomy 
in exchange for ending the fighting.

   Zelenskiy wants to tweak the timeline laid out in the Minsk accord, which 
calls for Ukraine to be able to regain control of its border with Russia only 
after local elections are held in the separatist regions and the regions 
receive autonomous status. Zelenskiy says Ukraine must get control of its 
border before local elections are held, instead. 

   The Kremlin insists that's not an option, and the separatists hope that 
Russia, France and Germany refuse Zelenskiy's requests. 

   "There are expectations that three guarantors of the Minsk agreements will 
explain to Zelenskiy that the agreements can't be revised," Natalya Nikonorova, 
foreign minister of the separatists' unrecognized Donetsk People's Republic, 
was quoted Monday in Russian daily Kommersant as saying.

   French officials say potential changes to the timeline will be discussed 
Monday, but stressed that the summit is aimed at fulfilling the Minsk accord -- 
not writing a new peace deal.

   Germany and France helped to broker the Minsk accord, in hopes of ending a 
conflict on Europe's eastern edge that has complicated relations with Russia, a 
powerful trading partner and diplomatic player. The four countries' leaders 
held a series of meetings starting in 2014 in Normandy as what is known as the 
"Normandy format" peace process.

   But with progress stalled on the ground, the leaders haven't met since 2016. 
Monday's summit is the first involving Zelenskiy and Macron, who has sought to 
improve relations with Russia and pushed for the renewed talks, encouraged by 
Zelenskiy's determination to end the war.

   Ukraine and Russia struck a prisoner exchange deal in September and agreed 
on a troop pullback from two locations in eastern Ukraine to pave the way for 
the Paris talks. Russia has also released three Ukrainian navy ships seized a 
year ago. 

   Zelenskiy said before Monday's talks that he hopes they will help achieve a 
lasting cease-fire, and that he hopes to negotiate a quick deal to exchange all 
prisoners held by the warring parties.

   An end to the conflict in the region known as the Donbass could also lead to 
an eventual lifting of EU sanctions against Russia linked to the eastern 
Ukraine fighting, which the Kremlin and European businesses have pushed for. 
The EU and U.S. imposed separate sanctions on Russia over its annexation of 
Ukraine's Crimea.

   The EU is expected to extend sanctions this week by another six months. 
Arriving for meetings in Brussels on Monday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas 
said: "At the moment I see no grounds to change anything in the European 
Union's sanctions policy toward Russia in this matter. It would be good if we 
could get there at some point."

   "Everyone knows that a solution to the question of Ukraine is one of the 
conditions for the relationship between the European Union and Russia 
developing better ties." he said.


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