Ukrainian President Zelensky invites Russia's Putin to meet in war-torn eastEuropost
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to meet in eastern Ukraine, where long-simmering tensions have resurged in recent weeks.
"I am ready to go even further and invite you to meet anywhere in the Ukrainian Donbass, where there is a war," he said.
Zelensky extended the invitation on Tuesday night during a public address, urging Putin to restore a ceasefire in the region where he said "millions of lives" are at stake.
The blunt offer for talks came following a flare-up in clashes between Ukraine's army and pro-Russian separatists controlling two regions in the country's east, raising concerns of a major escalation in the simmering war.
In an address to the nation, Zelensky said that Ukrainian and Russian negotiators had recently discussed plans for officials to travel to the frontlines of the trench conflict to assess the situation.
"I am ready to go even further and invite you to meet in any part of the Ukrainian Donbass where war is ongoing," Zelensky said.
Zelensky said in his address to the nation that although Ukraine did not want war, it was prepared to fight.
"Will Ukraine defend itself if something happens? Always. Our principle is simple: Ukraine does not start a war first, but Ukraine always stands to the last," he said.
The Ukrainian president, elected in 2019 on promises to bring an end the conflict, accused Russia of participating in peace negotiations while massing troops on Ukraine's border.
"A considerable number of Russian troops are concentrated near our border," he said. "Officially, Russia calls this military exercises.
Ukraine, the European Union and the United States have recently sounded the alarm over renewed tensions and accused Russia of massing tens of thousands of military personnel on the northern and eastern borders of the ex-Soviet country.
The EU on Monday estimated the number of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border at more than 100,000 during talks with Ukraine's foreign minister, who encouraged Western countries to hit Russia with a deeper package of economic sanctions over the conflict.
Kiev has been battling pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014, following Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula -- a move that plunged Russia's ties with the West to new lows and led to economic penalties.
The conflict, which has claimed more than 13,000 lives, has seen 30 Ukrainian soldiers killed since the start of the year, compared to 50 in all of 2020.
The escalation along the frontline as well as sharp rhetoric has spurred fresh rounds of talks. Ukrainian and Russian negotiators met earlier this week and also on Tuesday, although they have so far failed to secure any breakthroughs.