Sat, 20 Jul 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy have held their first telephone call and discussed the conflict in eastern Ukraine as well as swapping prisoners.

The call on July 11 was initiated by Zelenskiy, the Kremlin said.

Zelenskiy, who took office in May, raised the issue of freeing the sailors captured by Russia, according to a statement on the Ukrainian president's website.

Putin did not call or congratulate Zelenskiy after the 41-year-old comic defeated incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in a landslide in April.

The two have exchanged barbs through the media over the past two months. When Putin offered Ukrainian citizens living in the Donbas passports days after Zelenskiy was elected, the new Ukrainian president dismissed it as a ticket to a country with little freedom.

The July 11 call comes just days after Zelenskiy posted a video statement offering to meet with Putin in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, to discuss the annexation of Crimea and conflict in Ukraine. Zelenskiy said that he would like the leaders of the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany to join the talks.

Asked about Zelenskiy's proposal earlier on July 11, Putin told reporters that he's open for talks with the new Ukrainian leader. He added, however, that such negotiations would be unlikely before Ukraine's parliamentary elections are held on July 21 and a new Ukrainian cabinet is formed.

Zelenskiy's recently appointed head of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksandr Danylyuk, will meet in Washington on July 11 with U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson.

Russia illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014. Shortly thereafter, Moscow began supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, the territory known as the Donbas, in a conflict in which some 13,000 people have been killed since April 2014.

Russia has denied its involvement in the conflict.

With reporting by AP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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