April 27, 2019 8:18 am

Vladimir Putin raises possibility of meeting Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy

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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday raised the possibility of meeting Ukraine’s president-elect in a sign Moscow might want to improve relations that soured after its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Putin said if they meet, he and Volodymyr Zelenskiy should discuss how to end Ukraine’s conflict with Russian-backed separatists in its southeast.

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The Russian leader talked to reporters while in Beijing for a forum on China’s Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative.

“If we have a meeting sometime, begin some negotiations, which I do not rule out, then we will first of all have to talk about how to end the conflict in the southeast of Ukraine,” Putin said at a news conference.

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Moscow’s relations with Ukraine soured after the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the war Russia-backed separatists.

Putin also said Moscow is considering whether to offer citizenship to all Ukrainians following his decree this week to expedite applications by residents of the rebel-held parts of eastern Ukraine.

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That suggests Russia wants to exert hegemony in Ukraine. The Ukrainian government sees the decree as interference in its affairs and the peace process.

“In general, we are thinking of giving our citizenship in a simplified manner to the citizens of Ukraine,” Putin said.

© 2019 The Associated Press

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