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We must act fast to ease tensions in eastern Ukraine, Zelenskyy tells Euronews

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Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Volodymyr Zelenskyy   -   Copyright  Credit: AP
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Ukraine's president has told Euronews there is no time to lose in resolving tensions in the east of the country.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in Paris for talks with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Friday amid concern over a Russian military buildup on Ukraine's border and a surge in fighting. German Chancellor Angela Merkel took part in the meeting virtually.

Zelenskyy said the conflict in eastern Ukraine — which began seven years ago following Russia's annexation of Crimea — wasn't just Kyiv's problem.

"We need now to move very quick, sorry I understand that it's our problem but I think that it's not only our problem but the safety of Europe," he told Euronews.

"And the whole of Europe will understand that it's the safety for all Europe and that we'll move together very quick from words to direct steps."

Kyiv and Moscow have blamed one another for the spike in violence in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.

In a joint statement issued after their talks, the three leaders said they "shared concerns about the build-up of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine as well as in the illegally annexed Crimea."

"They called for the reduction of these troop reinforcements in order to achieve a de-escalation of the situation," they added.

Macron and Merkel reiterated their continued support for the "independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine" also stating that they remain committed to "the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements" but the statement made no mention of possible European action.

In a separate statement, Zelenskyy also called for a meeting with Macron, Merkel and Russia's Vladimir Putin.

The four countries together form the Normandy Quartet, which has been trying to negotiate an end to the conflict since 2015. They last met in December 2019.

How does Russia say?

Hours before the meeting in Paris, the Kremlin had urged "Mr Macron and Ms Merkel (to) use their influence during this video conference with Mr Zelenskyy to explain to him the possibility of a definitive cessation of all provocations," on the front.

"Of course, this (meeting) would be a good opportunity to recall the need to implement the Minsk agreements," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, meanwhile, that Western countries including Germany and France should "stop participating in the propaganda campaign surrounding Russian activity on Russian territory that does not threaten anybody".

The Russian presidency also said on Friday evening that it has "positively" received the invitation by US President Joe Biden for a bilateral meeting.

"We have heard President J. Biden's statement on his interest in a stable, constructive and predictable relations with Russia, including the holding of a Russian-American summit," it said, adding that t is "currently under consideration."

The Russian and American leader spoke on the phone earlier this week and a readout from the White House said Biden had "emphasised the United States' unwavering commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

"The President voiced our concerns over the sudden Russian military build-up in occupied Crimea and on Ukraine's borders, and called on Russia to de-escalate tensions."

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has also accused Russia of a "provocative" build-up of troops there.

EU must 'act accordingly'

Zelenskyy wants NATO to intervene and is also pressing for his country to join both the European Union and the NATO alliance.

"It's an important meeting," Zelenskyy said on Thursday after a meeting of Ukraine's security council. He said the situation in the east was "under control."

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro released before Friday's talks, he also said that "it is time (for the EU) to stop talking and make decisions."

"I think the European policy towards Ukraine must be 100 per cent clear. If the EU and Emmanuel Macron really considers us a member of the European family, they should act accordingly," he added.

EU foreign affairs ministers are scheduled to discuss the situation in Ukraine during their next meeting on April 19.

Ukraine's military has been fighting Russian-backed forces since 2014. More than 14,000 people have lost their lives in the protracted conflict.