Ukraine’s Leader Invites Putin for Talks in Conflict Zone

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy offered to meet Vladimir Putin in the conflict zone near the two countries’ border as concern over Russia’s military buildup in the region remains elevated.

Zelenskiy made the proposal late Tuesday after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the presence of about 100,000 Russian troops around its neighbor’s border is creating an “extremely tense” situation. The U.S. Pentagon said this week that the mobilization exceeds the one that preceded Russia’s 2014 military intervention.

Tensions between Kyiv and Moscow have spiraled in recent weeks after Russia began military drills and cease-fire violations jumped in the conflict that began when Putin seized Crimea from Ukraine seven years ago. The discord has spread to the nearby Black Sea -- the scene of another flashpoint in 2018 -- with Russia starting naval and airforce exercises there on Tuesday.

Ukraine’s Leader Invites Putin for Talks in Conflict Zone

“Ukraine and Russia, despite their common past, look to the future differently,” Zelenskiy said in a video message on Facebook. “But this isn’t necessarily a problem -- this is an opportunity. At the very least, an opportunity to stop the deadly mathematics of future military losses before it’s too late.”

There’s been no response to the invitation from Zelenskiy, who also accused Russia of rejecting a new truce in the conflict and signed a law permitting reservists to be called up for military duty without wider mobilization.

Speaking Wednesday in his annual state-of-the-nation address, Putin didn’t mention the recent escalation with Ukraine. He complained of unfriendly actions against Russia and threatened a “quick and harsh” reaction if “red lines” are crossed. Putin didn’t elaborate or name any countries.

Russia wants more autonomy for Ukraine’s breakaway Donbas region, where Russian-speakers dominate. That could derail plans by the government in Kyiv to join the EU and NATO -- goals that are backed by a majority of the nation’s 42 million population.

The Kremlin accuses its former ally of planning an offensive to regain control of Donbas -- a claim Ukraine denies. The fear in the region is a resumption of large-scale fighting that mostly ended after a 2015 peace accord. More than 13,000 people have died since the war first erupted. NATO, the U.S. and the EU have all urged Russia to de-escalate.

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