Ukraine's newly elected President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to join in a new round of expanded-format peace talks that involve U.S. President Donald Trump and other Western leaders.
In a pre-taped video statement prepared to coincide with Monday's one-day EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv, the political novice and former comedian who ascended to the presidency in a landslide election in April, addressed Putin directly.
"We need to talk? We do. Let's do it," he said, looking directly into the camera.
"I suggest the following company for our conversation: You and I, U.S. President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron.
"Let's discuss whose Crimea is, and who is not in Donbas," he said, assuming an unusually tough rhetorical tone ahead of upcoming snap parliamentary elections. Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party is seeking to secure a leadership mandate that solidifies the power of his administration.
Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014. Shortly thereafter, Moscow began supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, a region known as the Donbas, in a conflict in which some 13,000 people have been killed since April 2014.
Reaction from Russia
Russia has denied its involvement in the Donbas conflict.
At Monday's summit with European Union officials in Kyiv, Zelenskiy said only diplomatic negotiations can forge a lasting peace for Ukraine.
"We want to stop this war, and we want to return peace to Ukraine, but this can be done with only one weapon: diplomacy," he said, adding that sustained U.S. and EU sanctions over Russia's annexation of Crimea will remain crucial to ending the war.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that the Kremlin will consider Zelenskiy's call for talks, but added that he wasn't prepared to respond at the moment.
"I'm not prepared to answer anything," Peskov told reporters. "It's an absolutely new format."
"First, we need to understand whether such a meeting has any prospects, and second, we need to understand what kind of new format is being offered," he said.
Reaction from U.S.
U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker told VOA's Ukrainian Service on Friday that the White House is planning to host a Trump-Zelenskiy meeting, though a firm date has yet to be established.
"We don't have a date worked out with the White House just yet. It's going to depend on scheduling, but we hope to have that sooner rather than later," Volker said. "And it's important that the two presidents have a chance to meet each other. They've not met before; they've spoken on the phone, but they haven't met in person. And I think we want to indicate to President Zelenskiy as we have in our other meetings, we fully support his effort to bring about substantial reform in Ukraine. And this is really an opportunity. If it can be done to help Ukraine break free from a legacy of the past."
Volker also said that he was in dialogue with his French and German counterparts to the Ukrainian peace process while attending last week's Ukraine Reform Conference in Toronto, Ontario, but that Russian envoys have been largely disengaged, describing the war in Eastern Ukraine as a domestic issue for Kyiv to resolve alone.
"Unfortunately, we've really not heard much news from Russia. They are still saying that everything is Ukraine's responsibility ... that Ukraine needs to negotiate with the two so-called 'separatist people's republics' that they created in Ukraine," he said, referring to the Kremlin-back separatist's in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics in eastern Ukraine.
In a July 8 video post, Zelenskiy said he was ready to hold talks with Putin in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
This story originated in VOA's Ukrainian Service.