With tensions spiraling in eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia will hold talks Wednesday at the Elysee Palace in Paris alongside representatives from Germany and France under the Normandy format.
It is the first time such talks — which will take place in an advisory capacity — will be held since 2019 under the Normandy format. It is also the first time since Moscow’s latest military build-up began on Ukraine’s border.
The move has stoked fears of a much wider incursion into Ukraine beyond the industrial eastern region known as Donbas, which is controlled by Russia-backed separatists.
Andriy Yermak, spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, tweeted that he had arrived in Paris for the talks, saying that the meeting was a “strong signal of readiness for a peaceful settlement.”
What will be discussed in Paris?
The mid-day meeting will focus on humanitarian efforts and the possibility of formal talks on the status of the Donbas region. Russia-backed separatists control the territory, though Moscow denies any connection to the proxy forces.
Since last November, the US and Europe have publicly asserted there is intelligence concerning a Russian military build-up encircling Ukraine and a force that now amounts to over 100,000 troops stationed on the country’s borders.
A map indicating the positions of Russian troops near Ukraine
The intelligence prompted concerns that Russia plans to escalate the conflict in Donbas and seize a greater share of Ukrainian territory, though analysts debate what shape and contour that military effort might take as well as the costs to both Ukraine and Russia.
At the beginning of January, Germany and France attempted trilateral talks with representatives of both nations shuttling between Kyiv and Moscow, but without the four parties sitting down altogether at once.
What are the latest developments?
On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden said his country is prepared to hit Russian President Vladimir Putin with personal sanctions.
On Monday, the Pentagon placed 8,500 troops on heightened alert to potentially be deployed to the countries on NATO’s eastern flank, so the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania — all nations that border Russia or the Black Sea.
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The US has also opened talks with energy-producing nations about diverting supplies to Europe should Russia cut gas supplies.
Additionally, the US and NATO are working on written responses to Russia’s demands which include a rollback of US troops from countries that joined the military alliance since 1997, all of which previously were either occupied by or satellites of the Soviet Union. The US and NATO have said this, and many other Russian demands are not possible .
The eastern Donbas has been occupied along with Crimea since 2014, following months-long protests in the central Kyiv square known as Maidan. Those protests culminated in the deaths of dozens of Ukrainians who were shot and killed by the country’s security forces, which led to the former Russian-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych fleeing to Rostov-on-Don in Russia.
The UN reports more than 14,000 deaths in the nearly eight-year-old conflict.
ab, ar/rs (AFP, dpa)
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