Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky will make his first visit to France as head of state next week, with Europe seeking progress on reforms and the conflict with separatists in its east, the French presidency said Thursday.
Zelensky, a former comedian whose crushing victory in April elections shook Ukraine’s political establishment, will hold talks with President Emmanuel Macron on Monday afternoon.
The meeting will come after Zelensky met EU leaders in Brussels this month on his first foreign trip as Ukraine’s leader when he pressed Europe to step up pressure on Russia to end the war in his country’s east.
It will also come after Macron hosted both Zelensky and former president Petro Poroshenko, whom he beat in the elections, for unusual separate talks on April 12 just ahead of their electoral run-off.
In a sign of the importance Europe’s key powers put on Ukraine, German Chancellor Angela Merkel held similar talks with the two rivals the same day in Berlin.
Macron’s Elysee Palace said the talks Monday would offer a chance to “address the support of France for the reform programme desired by the new president of Ukraine”.
It said the discussions would also look at the “chances of solving the conflict in the east of Ukraine” with the support of France and Germany.
EU leaders have applauded the conduct of the election and peaceful transfer of power from Poroshenko.
But European capitals are also keeping a close eye on the first steps of Zelensky, a man with no previous political experience, whose fame comes from starring in a hugely popular TV series as a Ukrainian teacher who suddenly becomes president.
His Servant of the People party has the same name as the television series.
Since 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed in the war in the east between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists, which erupted after a popular uprising ousted Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president and Russia annexed Crimea.
Kiev and its Western backers accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms across the border to fan the flames of the conflict. Moscow has denied the claims despite evidence to the contrary.