June 4, 2019 / 4:28 PM / 5 months ago

Ukraine's new president seeks pro-Western course, peace with Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy poses with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - New Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday he was ready to negotiate with Russia to end the war in eastern Ukraine while sticking to Ukraine’s goal of one day joining the European Union and the NATO alliance.

Speaking at NATO headquarters, Zelenskiy, a former comic actor with no prior political experience who took over as president on May 20, said he would keep Ukraine “on the path of European and Euro Atlantic integration”.

“The strategic course of Ukraine to achieve fully-fledged membership in the EU and NATO ... remains unchanged,” Zelenskiy told reporters alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “This is the priority of our foreign policy.”

Zelenskiy met European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker earlier on Tuesday in Brussels.

Zelenskiy has taken over a country on the frontline of the West’s standoff with Russia following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and a Kremlin-backed separatist conflict that has killed 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine.

NATO has provided training to Ukraine’s military and pledged to continue that support. Zelenskiy described Russian military power as a “major challenge” but said he was eager to revive a peace agreement reached in Minsk, Belarus.

The Minsk agreement, involving Ukraine and Russia and brokered by France and Germany, ended major combat in eastern Ukraine in 2015, although deadly clashes still occur regularly. Ukraine and pro-Moscow separatists accuse each other of violating the truce.

“We are ready to negotiate with Russia. We are ready to implement the Minsk agreements. However, we first must be able to protect ourselves,” he said.

“Our common task is to ensure stability and security in the Black Sea region,” Zelenskiy said, adding that his new military Chief of the General Staff would hold peace talks “within the Minsk format” on Wednesday.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Peter Graff

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