Volodymyr Zelenskyy Calls on France, Germany To Give Ukraine Stronger Support Against Russia

Ukraine's leader President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called upon France and Germany to put more pressure on Russia after increasing violations of a cease-fire agreement and a Russian troop buildup near the Ukrainian border.

France and Germany brokered a peace deal in 2015 to help end major fighting between Russia and Ukraine after Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. The agreement did not end minor skirmishes and political settlement efforts have reached a standstill.

On Thursday, Zelenskyy asked the two European nations to lend more support to Ukraine. He added that he believes both have lessened their stances against Russia as of late.

"I feel their support, but I believe that it should be stronger," Zelenskyy told reporters at a press conference. "They are aware of my thoughts, I have been very frank with them. I believe that they have recently weakened their positions a bit."

Zelenskyy has suggested he and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in eastern Ukraine, and Putin has invited Zelenskyy to discussions in Moscow.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Odessa Ukraine Commemoration
ODESSA, UKRAINE - MAY 02: Thousands of Ukrainian nationalists, veterans and local residents march to commemorate the 2014 clashes between pro-Kyiv groups and Russia-backed militias on May 2, 2021 in Odessa, Ukraine. Pierre Crom/Getty Images

The two ex-Soviet neighbors have been locked in a tense tug-of-war ever since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 following the ouster of the country's former Moscow-friendly president and threw its weight behind separatist rebels in Ukraine's east.

More than 14,000 people have died in seven years of fighting in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland called Donbas.

Moscow says it has withdrawn its forces after sweeping maneuvers, but Zelenskyy said Thursday that many Russian troops have remained near Ukraine.

The 2015 peace deal signed in Minsk, Belarus, obliged Ukraine to offer broad autonomy to the separatist regions and a sweeping amnesty for the rebels. It also stipulated that Ukraine would regain full control of its border with Russia in the rebel-held territories only after the election of local leaders and legislatures — provisions resented by many Ukrainians as a betrayal of national interests.

Ukraine has pushed for modifying the Minsk agreement to make reclaiming control of the border with Russia in the rebel-controlled regions precede the local elections there, but Russia has firmly rejected Kyiv's demands.

Zelenskyy said his office has engaged in contacts with the Kremlin on preparing his meeting with Putin.

"A conversation between the Ukrainian presidential office and the Russian Federation has started" to organize the talks, Zelenskyy said, adding that he could meet with the Russian president in a third country.

In Moscow, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed in Thursday's call with reporters that Russian and Ukrainian officials have had some preliminary discussions about a possible meeting, but added they have remained sketchy.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gestures while speaking to the media during a news conference at the Antonov aircraft factory in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, May 20, 2021. Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo