Ukraine summit 'soon' after progress in talks: France

Paris (AFP) –


France said Wednesday that the conditions were in place for it to host a summit "soon" on resolving the conflict in Ukraine, hailing progress made in negotiations this week.

The French foreign ministry said in a statement that such a summit could be held within the so-called Normandy format that includes France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, meaning it would bring together Russia's President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

"The conditions are now in place for holding soon in Paris a meeting of heads of state and government under the Normandy format, with the aim of progressing on the path to a lasting solution to the conflict in Ukraine," it said.

Such a meeting would also be attended by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been spearheading the drive for peace in Ukraine, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It would be the first such summit since 2016.

Macron had hoped to host a meeting in September but it was held up in a sign of the difficulties in reconciling the Ukrainian and Russian positions.

The summit would attempt to end a conflict which has seen pro-Moscow separatists declare unrecognised breakaway statelets in two Ukrainian eastern regions and left more than 13,000 dead.

It broke out after Russia's 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which plunged Moscow's relations with the West into a deep freeze.

The French foreign ministry said negotiations between Ukrainian, Russian and separatist negotiators in Belarus on Tuesday achieved "important progress," agreeing on a roadmap for the regions.

It said the conditions of the future status of the two eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk had been clarified, as well as the disengagement of armed forces from three "pilot zones."

"France welcomes this progress," the statement said.

France has led intense diplomacy in recent months, and after an hours-long meeting at his holiday residence in late August, Macron also met Putin briefly on Monday following the funeral in Paris of former French president Jacques Chirac.

In a speech to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Tuesday, Macron had strongly defended his policy of engaging with Russia against criticism he was giving too much away to Putin.

"We are not naive, we are not complacent and we are aware that red lines have been crossed" by Russia in its actions in Ukraine, he said.