Following on the heels of last week's Joe Biden invitation to Vladimir Putin for a bilateral summit proposed for the summer to tackle a range of still simmering contentious issues, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has issued a surprised invitation late Tuesday for Putin to meet him in the war-torn east of Ukraine.
In making the announcement Zelensky told Putin that such a direct high states meeting where the two leaders can talk de-escalation is essential as there are a "million lives at stake" in any potential outbreak of major conflict, according to AFP:
Zelensky told the Russian leader that he was ready "to invite you to meet anywhere in the Ukrainian Donbass where the war is going on", adding that "million of lives at stake" in the conflict between government forces and pro-Kremlin separatists in the east of the country.
Days ago Zelensky traveled to an area near Mariupol in Donetsk where he "walked the front line with the troops" amid renewed fighting with Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass region.
Zelensky's direct invitation to Putin to meet over the crisis came the same day Russia's Defense Ministry justified its troop build-up in the South, particularly in Crimea and near the border with Ukraine, by calling it a necessary "deterrent" to NATO's "destabilization" of the region.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that "Nato’s attempts to destabilize situations in the Middle East and Transcaucasian region force Russia to take symmetric measures of strategic deterrence," according to an Interfax citation by Bloomberg.
Following Biden's proposal to meet face-to-face with Putin we and others noted that it appeared Ukraine's leadership had been effectively sidelined by the two rival superpowers. As one FT piece had underscored, Putin's troop build-up has succeeded in pressuring the Biden administration for a coveted summit to decide the future of Ukraine.
"The summit format will also please the Kremlin by effectively cutting Kyiv out of any negotiations, and allow Putin to project the image of two global superpowers deciding the future fate of the conflict," FT observed.
Zelensky's Tuesday appeal to Putin appears an attempt to assert that no major agreements or decisions can be reached without direct negotiations involving Ukraine's leader.