Ukraine pushes for four-way talks including Russia to restore ceasefire in east

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a news briefing following talks with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda in Kyiv, Ukraine March 18, 2021. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday pressed for four-way peace negotiations that included Russian President Vladimir Putin to ease tensions following the build-up of Russian troops along their shared border.

Zelenskiy spoke during a visit to Paris, where he held talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as part of a diplomatic push to pressure Russia to pull back its forces and restore a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame for rising clashes in the eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops have battled Russian-backed forces in a conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people since 2014.

The standoff has fuelled tensions between Moscow and U.S. President Joe Biden's administration, which imposed a new round of sanctions on Russia this week that prompted Moscow to retaliate with its own measures on Friday.

Zelenskiy pressed for talks in the so-called 'Normandy' format between the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine that have not taken place since December 2019.

"I'm determined for the four of us to connect," Zelenskiy told reporters.

"The issue of the security situation in the east of Ukraine and the de-occupation of our territories - these are issues that are resolved at the N4 (Normandy) meetings, where four leaders resolve issues."

Ukraine said an earlier request for direct talks with Putin, issued after four Ukrainian soldiers were killed in one day in late March, was ignored.

Zelenskiy is also lobbying NATO member states to speed up Ukraine's entry into the military alliance, a prospect that is fiercely resisted by Moscow.

Asked about Kyiv's request to join NATO and the European Union, a French presidential adviser said it was an issue to be discussed collectively within these organisations.

"The heart of the exchange was how France could help to favour de-escalation," the official said.

In a statement after the meeting, France, Germany and Ukraine urged Russia to pull back its troops.

The Kremlin earlier said the fighting in eastern Ukraine had lessened but it was monitoring the situation closely.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Michel Rose, Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Mike Collett-White)

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