Zelenskiy to Putin: meet me in war zone

Volodymyr Zelenskyy is willing
Volodymyr Zelenskyy is willing "to meet anywhere in the Ukrainian Donbass" with Vladimir Putin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has challenged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to meet him in eastern Ukraine's Donbass region for talks on ending the conflict there and easing tensions between the two states.

Issuing the invitation in a video address on Tuesday, Zelenskiy also urged Kyiv's Western backers to give "clear signals" they were willing to support the country in its standoff with Russia.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame for rising clashes in the Donbass, where Ukrainian troops have battled Russian-backed forces in a conflict that Ukraine says has killed 14,000 people since 2014.

Ukraine, its Western allies and NATO have accused Russia of a "provocative" build-up of troops on Ukraine's eastern border and in Crimea. Russia in turn accused the United States and NATO of "provocative activity" in the Black Sea region.

"Mr Putin: I am ready to go even further and invite you to meet anywhere in the Ukrainian Donbass, where there is a war," Zelenskiy said.

The standoff has prompted Ukraine to urge NATO member states to admit Ukraine into the military alliance. It also called on the European Union to impose new economic sanctions on Moscow but acknowledged that EU might not be prepared to do so yet.

"Our citizens need clear signals that in the eighth year of the war, a country that is a shield for Europe at the cost of its lives, will receive support not just as partners, from the stands, but as players on the same team, directly on the field, shoulder to shoulder," Zelenskiy said.

Ukraine wanted to end the conflict through diplomacy but was ready to defend itself if attacked, he said.

"Does Ukraine want the war? No. But is Ukraine ready for the war? Yes."

Australian Associated Press