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Putin urged to hold direct negotiations with Zelensky

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The leaders of France and Germany have urged Russia’s Vladimir Putin to hold “direct [and] serious negotiations” with Ukraine’s president, the German chancellor’s office said.

Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz spoke to Putin by phone for 80 minutes.

The pair “insisted on an immediate ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian troops”, the chancellor’s office said.

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Russia’s leader said Moscow was open to resuming dialogue with Kyiv, according to the Kremlin.

It did not mention the possibility of direct talks between Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Ukrainian president earlier said he was not “eager” for talks, but added they would likely be necessary to end the conflict.

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Russian and Ukrainian delegations have held multiple rounds of talks remotely and in-person since Russia invaded on February 24, but efforts have stalled of late.

France and Germany also urged Putin to release 2,500 Ukrainian fighters taken as prisoners of war at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.

The sprawling factory became the last holdout in the southern port city, which endured relentless bombardment from Russian forces and now lies in ruins.

Earlier this month, Moscow officials said the last fighters defending the plant had surrendered, while president Zelensky said they had been permitted to leave.

Russia has previously said more than 900 of the fighters were moved to a reopened prison colony in Olenivka, a village in Russian-occupied Donetsk. A smaller number with serious wounds were taken to a hospital in the town of Novoazovsk, also in Donetsk.

Ukraine hopes they will be released as part of a prisoner exchange—but Russia has not confirmed that. Some Russian lawmakers argue the fighters should be tried or even executed.—BBC

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