Kiev vows tough stance from President Zelensky at Putin talks

Kiev (AFP) –


Kiev's top diplomat on Saturday insisted President Volodymyr Zelensky will not make concessions to Moscow at a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Western leaders later this month, despite fears to the contrary in Ukraine.

"President Zelensky isn't tall but he's very strong physically, he trains a lot, it will be very hard to twist his arms" at the summit to try to end fighting in eastern Ukraine, newly appointed foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko said in an ironic comment.

The minister added that he did not believe that Western support for Kiev has altered, speaking on the sidelines of an international conference called Yalta European Strategy organised in Kiev by Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk.

The Russian and Ukrainian presidents are set to meet in the coming weeks in Paris for a summit that will also involve the French president and the German chancellor in a bid to achieve progress on the conflict in eastern Ukraine with pro-Russian separatists that has lasted more than five years.

The summit will be the first in three years and comes as French President Emmanuel Macron has pushed for a review of ties with Russia.

Some Ukrainian politicians and media fear that the West has tired of Ukraine's long-running crisis and will push Zelensky to make damaging concessions to Russia.

The most controversial topics set to be discussed at the summit include organising local elections in the separatist region.

"Free and fair elections can only take place in a free, fair and secure environment," said the US special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker.

"That means that you can't have Russia and its proxies controlling that environment."

Ukraine and Western countries accuse Russia of giving military backing to the separatists in eastern Ukraien and of de facto controlling the situation there, which Moscow denies.

Relations between the ex-Soviet neighbours have plunged into unprecedented crisis since Russia's annexation the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014, followed by the outbreak of the separatist conflict in which around 13,000 people have died.