STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Russia's foreign minister drops by Washington today. He meets President Trump, whose story touches Russia again and again. Investigators established that Russia assisted Trump's 2016 election. Russia's war with Ukraine is the backdrop of an impeachment inquiry. President Trump took a dim view of Russia's enemy and withheld U.S. military aid to Ukraine while seeking political favors. Now the war in Ukraine could pause. The presidents of Russia and Ukraine met yesterday and agreed to a cease-fire. The meeting was in Paris, which is where we find NPR's Eleanor Beardsley. Hi there, Eleanor.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What was this meeting like?
BEARDSLEY: Well, you know, it went on for hours and hours and didn't break up until after midnight. So here's this press conference, you know, after midnight. You had this young neophyte politician, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, meeting with the strong man who's run Russia for 20 years, Vladimir Putin, and continues to create havoc in Ukraine. So everyone is watching body language and faces. And Zelenskiy and Putin were at the far ends of the table separated by their mediators, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. Zelenskiy spoke first right after the host, Macron, and he appeared nervous, but it - what he said seemed heartfelt. Here he is. You can hear him.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKIY: (Non-English language spoken).
BEARDSLEY: So he said he had all of Ukrainians with him in Paris, and he felt their support. He said he also had truth with him and the desire for justice and peace in his own country. He said the meetings were long, but they were concrete and important and that the dialogue had been unblocked. Zelenskiy also asserted that Ukraine is an independent and free country and its future will be decided by Ukrainians, and he asserted that Donbas - that's eastern Ukraine - and Crimea are part of Ukraine. Remember, Russia took Crimea five years ago and is still destabilizing eastern Ukraine.
INSKEEP: Well, what exactly did they agree on, then, given that Russian forces still control a lot of Ukraine?
BEARDSLEY: Right. Well, they agreed on a cease-fire before the end of the year, but I might add that there have been 20 cease-fires in this war. So will it hold? But what was really important and is very concrete and measurable is they agreed to exchange all prisoners before New Year's Eve. So that will be measurable. And also, they agreed by next March to withdraw forces from three major conflict zones. And this crisis group is going to meet again in four months.
INSKEEP: When you say crisis group, it includes Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, the host of this meeting in Paris where you are. What is his perspective on all this?
BEARDSLEY: Well, France has taken a lead role in trying to solve this situation. Macron has actually spoken recently of an - getting a new dynamic between the West and Russia - you know, retying Russia to Europe. He wants a reset, and it's actually one of the things that Macron and President Trump agree upon. Also, you know what, Steve? Macron needs a win. He needs a win on the international stage. He's not in good shape at home. I don't know if you've heard, but there's huge strikes and protests in Paris, and there's going to be a huge protest today against his pension overhaul. So I spoke with analyst Christian Makarian - he's editor of L'Express magazine - and here's what he said about the talks.
CHRISTIAN MAKARIAN: Macron needs something very concrete about Ukraine. And if there is someone who can help him, it's Zelenskiy because Zelenskiy is also in a corner because of the Trump affair.
BEARDSLEY: So, you know, he said they need each other. And you know what? You could see that, Steve. While Zelenskiy spoke, he would look down the table over at Macron, and Macron would look at him and smile. It was almost like a smile of encouragement - his guide. It was buttressing Zelenskiy, you know, encouraging him to keep going. It was very interesting.
INSKEEP: Appreciate your observant eye, Eleanor. Thanks so much.
BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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