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Putin And Zelenskiy To Meet To Discuss Effort To End The War In Eastern Ukraine

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The leaders of Russia and Ukraine have just wrapped up talks in Paris. It's an attempt to end the war in Eastern Ukraine, where 13,000 people have already died. This is the first time Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has met with Vladimir Putin. The two leaders talked about the outcome of the meeting in a joint press conference.

And we're joined now by NPR's Lucian Kim, who's been watching from Moscow. Hi, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This was supposed to be a peace summit in hopes of resolving a five-year-long conflict between the two countries. Were there any breakthroughs?

KIM: No. This was largely a confirmation of the status quo of a peace process called the Minsk agreement that started in 2014. This process has been completely frozen for the past three years. So in some sense, it could be considered progress that Zelenskiy and Putin even met. Zelenskiy said going into this meeting, he was looking for a lasting cease-fire along the whole frontline and an exchange of all prisoners. And Putin has now agreed to that, at least on paper. But these are just baby steps. The tough part is agreeing on the mechanics of how these separatist regions should be returned to Ukraine.

SHAPIRO: So where does that leave the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, who have been fighting for five years now?

KIM: Well, they may be slightly better than they were yesterday 'cause they're really very bad. This was the first meeting between Zelenskiy and Putin, and their discussions lasted about six hours.

Russians are still trying to figure out exactly what to make of Zelenskiy. Many of them know him as the comedian he used to be in his previous life. And the contrast here with Putin is huge. Today, Zelenskiy arrived at the summit in a Renault minivan, while Putin arrived in this giant Russian-made limousine.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

KIM: Zelenskiy is also more than 25 years younger than Putin, and he has a very breezy way about him. His first language is Russian, and he actually switched to Russian during the closing press conference and invited Russian journalists to see Ukraine with their own eyes.

SHAPIRO: Of course, Ukraine is central to the impeachment inquiry here in the U.S. Does today's meeting affect Ukraine's relationship with the U.S. at all?

KIM: Well, Zelenskiy really wanted to have a White House visit before going into his meeting with Putin so he could show that he has U.S. support. Instead, President Trump asked him to first start investigating the Bidens. And that's, of course, how the whole impeachment scandal began.

So Ukrainians are very upset that they're in the middle of this American political battle. Ukraine has been an independent country since 1991, and it's really counted on strong bipartisan support since then. Now, of course, with the impeachment scandal, Ukrainians are afraid they could lose that bipartisan support.

SHAPIRO: And what does this meeting mean for the U.S. relationship with Russia?

KIM: Well, what happens to Ukraine is key for any movement in the U.S.-Russian relationship. The U.S. supported sanctions following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and added even more sanctions when the conflict started in Eastern Ukraine. So if Russia wants any movement here, it's going to have to show some goodwill on Ukraine.

What's especially surprising in that context is that tomorrow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, is due to make only his second visit to Washington since 2017. And he's also expected to meet President Trump. So for Ukraine, that sends a very contradictory message.

SHAPIRO: Of course, this meeting is happening in Paris at the urging of French President Emmanuel Macron. What does that say about the role of France in global leadership here?

KIM: Well, Macron has been reaching out to Putin for some time now. He sees the U.S. as retreating from Europe. And there's a vacuum in Europe right now, with Britain preoccupied with Brexit and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pretty much a lame duck, as she's in her last term in office.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow.

Thanks a lot, Lucian.

KIM: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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