Zelensky, a 41-year-old former comedian, was inaugurated on Monday as Ukraine’s 41st president, launching a fresh era for a country that has been wracked by economic difficulties and a four-year-old deadly war in two mainly Russian-speaking regions in its east, Presstv Reported.
The armed confrontation began when a wave of protests in Ukraine overthrew a democratically-elected pro-Russia government and replaced it with a pro-West administration. The majority of the people in the east, mainly ethnic Russians, refused to endorse the new administration that took over at the time, and turned the two regions of Donetsk and Lugansk — collectively known as the Donbass — into self-proclaimed republics.
The war has so far claimed some 13,000 lives.
Kiev and its Western allies accuse Moscow of having a hand in the crisis. Moscow, however, denies the allegations.
Furthermore, relations between Moscow and the West have deteriorated since 2014, when Crimea, a peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea, joined Russia following a referendum, in which more than 90 percent of participants voted in favor of unification. Crimea’s population is also largely ethnically Russian.
The West brands the reunification as the annexation of Ukrainian land by Russia.
The US and the European Union (EU) have since imposed several rounds of harsh sanctions on Russia over the conflict in the east and the Crimean issue.
Zelensky has already told a US delegation headed by US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and US Senator Ron Johnson that Washington should keep “increasing sanctions” against Moscow.
The political novice, who has defined his top priority as ending the conflict in the east, also stressed that Ukraine would not be able to “overcome Russian aggression in the Donbass and Crimea alone.”
On Tuesday, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said in a statement in response to Zelensky’s call for more anti-Russia sanctions, “This is the rhetoric that will not help Ukraine to sort out the problem of the southeast.”
He said Kiev had to stick to Western-brokered peace accords for the Donbass if it wanted to resolve the conflict.
“The US cannot fulfill a list (of requirements) of the Minsk agreements. Russia cannot fulfill them either. It is Kiev that can and must fulfill them,” Peskov further said, referring to the peace deals inked in the Belarusian capital Minsk in 2015.
The accords have so far failed to end the conflict despite numerous ceasefire agreements and are largely moribund.