By Agence France-Presse
France hopes President Vladimir Putin will respond positively to moves by his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky to end the five-year-old conflict in the country’s east, a French presidency official said Tuesday.
French President Emmanuel Macron is due to host Putin for talks at his holiday residence in Bregancon in southern France next Monday, a rare bilateral visit by the Russian strongman to the West after years of growing tensions.
“President Zelensky has made offers to which — it seems to us — President Putin should respond in an encouraging way,” said the French official, who asked not to be named.
“We will intensify our efforts on the question of Ukraine, notably within the Normandy format” that groups Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.
“The election of President Zelensky gives us some room to manoeuvre,” the official added.
Macron has taken a keen interest in brokering an end to the conflict in the east of Ukraine that began in 2014, hosting Zelensky for talks in June for one of the former comedian’s first foreign trips as president.
Zelensky has offered to meet Putin for face-to-face talks, saying “let’s do it”, and spoke to him by phone last week when four Ukrainian soldiers were killed in a grenade attack.
“I called him urgently. I told him that this brings us no closer to peace,” Zelensky said.
Since 2014, an estimated 13,000 people have been killed in the war between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists.
The meeting will provide a crucial chance for Macron to try to find common ground with Putin ahead of hosting the Group of Seven summit starting August 24 in Biarritz, southwest France.
Russia was excluded from what was the G8 following its 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
The official said Iran would also feature high on the agenda, with Paris keen for Moscow to use its warm ties with Tehran to prevent further escalation in the region.
Tensions have shot up since Washington’s unilateral pullout from a 2015 deal on the Iranian nuclear drive known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA).
The move prompted Iran to step up its nuclear activities.
“There is the very immediate issue of keeping Iran from reneging on a number of other commitments,” said the official, adding that JPCOA must be preserved.
“If Russia reaffirms that Iran must respect its commitments, this will strengthen our position a lot,” the official added.
Macron will also press Putin to use his influence on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop an offensive in the northern region of Idlib.