Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Ukraine counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time at a summit in Paris which agreed to some measures to de-escalate the Ukraine conflict.
The summit was hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hailed the progress after some eight hours of talks at the Elysee Palace on ending the conflict between pro-Moscow separatists and Ukrainian forces in the east of Ukraine.
Four-way talks at the Elysee Palace were followed by the first-ever bilateral meeting between wily ex-KGB agent Putin — in power for two decades — and ex-comedian Zelensky who won the presidency this year.
Zelensky said a new exchange of prisoners would take place between Ukraine and pro-Moscow separatists by the end of this year.
But in a sign that more advances were needed, Macron said a new summit would be held in four months to take stock of progress on ending the conflict.
Monday’s summit sought to implement accords signed in Minsk in 2015 that called for the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the restoration of Kiev’s control over its borders, wider autonomy for Donetsk and Lugansk, and the holding of local elections.
For Macron, the summit was a centrepiece of an increasingly bold foreign policy he is driving despite troubles at home, where transport workers have been on strike for days in a dispute over pension reforms.
Macron, who shocked NATO allies last month by saying the alliance was suffering “brain death,” has made clear his belief that Europe needs a strategic partnership with Russia.
On Friday, ex-Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko warned his successor Volodymyr Zelensky that not to trust on Russian President Vladimir Putin and said avoid meeting with him.
Last month, President Putin praised Zelensky as “likeable” and “sincere”.
The summit is the first since 2016 in this format and is awaited by some in Ukraine with hope and others with unease and concern that Zelensky may compromise the country’s interests when faced with political heavyweight Putin.
In September, Putin had said that a prisoner swap with Ukraine will take place “in the near future”, confirming a step that EU countries hope will lead to a breakthrough in relations between Moscow and Kiev.
Russia and Ukraine have been in discussions over exchanging prisoners held by both countries, who have been in conflict since 2014 after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.