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Putin sits down for talks with Ukraine leader for first time

Closer look at Ukrainian President Zelensky

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky are meeting for the first time at a summit in Paris to find a way to end the five years of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Both of the leaders are sitting down in Paris on Monday along with the leaders of France and Germany.

The talks are focusing on the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine that was brokered by France and Germany but has largely stalled. A major breakthrough at the summit is unlikely, and Ukrainian protesters in Kyiv are heaping pressure on Zelensky not to surrender too much to Putin at their first face-to-face meeting.

Normandy Summit Format on Ukraine in Paris
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy sits down with French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin for a working session at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France December 9, 2019.  POOL / REUTERS

AFP reports that thousands have been killed and one million have fled their homes since pro-Russia militias in eastern Ukraine launched a bid for independence in 2014 -- kicking off a conflict that deepened Russia's estrangement from the West. Separatists seized control of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions shortly after Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

Putin and Zelensky are facing each other across the table, flanked by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Putin and Zelensky are expected to hold a separate one-on-one meeting later.

Whatever happens, the summit is the biggest test yet for Zelensky, a comic actor and political novice who won the presidency this year in a landslide -- partly on promises to end the war.

While Zelensky still enjoys broad public support, he has been embarrassed by the scandal around his discussions with U.S. President Donald Trump that have unleashed an impeachment inquiry in Washington. The U.S. is an important military backer for Ukraine, which is hugely out-gunned by Russia.

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