Putin Picks New Ukraine Negotiator After Ties Thaw a Little

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that a senior Ukrainian-born Russian official was now in charge of managing Moscow’s relations with Ukraine, a move likely to be seen by some politicians in Kyiv as further evidence of a slight thaw in ties.President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Dmitry Kozak, deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, was now the most senior Kremlin official when it came to Ukraine.Kozak, a lawyer by education, was born in what used to be Soviet Ukraine.Vladislav Surkov, seen as a hardliner by many in Kyiv, had previously overseen Russia’s relations with Ukraine, a role that saw him negotiate and advise Putin on the subject. Peskov said Surkov still worked for the Kremlin, but did not elaborate.Relations between Moscow and Kyiv were derailed after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and Moscow-backed separatists launched an uprising in the Donbas, eastern Ukraine, that has killed more than 13,000 people. Russia denies any role in the conflict.Russia and Ukraine are wrangling over how to implement a peace deal on the Donbas, but major disagreements remain and full normalisation is far off.Under Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, there has been some movement however with a peace summit held in Paris in December with the leaders of Russia, France and Germany. That was followed by a large-scale prisoner swap.Zelenskiy on Tuesday appointed a former lawyer called Andriy Yermak as his chief of staff.Yermak, who was involved in negotiating prisoner swaps with Russia, told the Ukraine 24 TV channel on Monday that he had met Kozak and thought he was an improvement over Surkov.”It seems to me that he (Kozak) is more inclined to dialogue. And on the issues on which I spoke with him, I can say that we had constructive communication, without which nothing would be possible of what we have already seen,” Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency cited Yermak as saying. 

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