Ukraine presidential rivals to meet Macron, Poroshenko also sees Merkel

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PARIS, France (Reuters) - The two remaining candidates in Ukraine’s presidential race will meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday as Paris seeks to prepare for what happens after the run-off on April 21, a French presidential source said on Wednesday.

President Petro Poroshenko is facing Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian with no political experience who plays a fictional president in a TV series, in the second-round vote after neither obtained a majority of votes on March 31.

France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine take part in the “Normandy” format talks, established to implement a peace agreement for eastern Ukraine brokered in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

“These contacts will allow us to calmly prepare the next steps in the development of Franco-Ukrainian ties and joint work for security on the European continent,” the source said.

Ukraine is at the heart of the West’s tussle with Moscow after the 2014 Maidan street protests ejected Poroshenko’s Kremlin-friendly predecessor, and Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backed armed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern industrial Donbass region.

Macron will meet Poroshenko and Zelenskiy separately on Friday afternoon.

Poroshenko will also meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday in Berlin, German and Ukrainian sources said.

Zelenskiy’s spokeswoman declined to comment on whether he would meet the two leaders.

Zelenskiy won nearly twice as many votes as Poroshenko, but the incumbent is fighting back by painting his rival as a lightweight who would put Ukraine’s security at risk.

Reporting by John Irish, Marine Pennetier, Matthias Williams in Kiev and Thomas Escritt in Berlin