Putin, Ukraine Leader Break Crisis Ice at D-Day Event

Image: Putin, Ukraine Leader Break Crisis Ice at D-Day Event Ukraine's President-elect Petro Proshenko, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Friday, 06 Jun 2014 02:32 PM

 

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The leaders of Russia and Ukraine held their first talks on Friday since Moscow annexed Crimea, airing ways to end their four-month conflict in a brief encounter during commemorations in France of the World War Two D-Day landings.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought together Russia's Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko for a 15-minute meeting before they joined other dignitaries for lunch.

Putin went on to have an equally short meeting with Barack Obama in which, according to a White House official, the U.S. President urged him to recognize Poroshenko as Ukraine's leader and to cut off arms supplies to pro-Russian separatists.

French officials have been plotting for weeks to use the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings — a key event helping to end World War II — to try to break the ice in the most serious European security crisis since the end of the Cold War.

Hollande's office said Putin and Poroshenko shook hands and agreed that detailed talks on a ceasefire between Kiev government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine would begin within a few days.

Poroshenko, brought to power by pro-Western protests which Putin has termed a coup, was photographed looking unsmiling and earnest as he stood with the Russian leader and Merkel.

"It was a normal, serious exchange between two leaders," an official in Hollande's office said.

"This marks tentative progress which he (Hollande) welcomes, particularly given this occasion so symbolic for peace," the official said, adding they also discussed steps such as Russian recognition of Poroshenko's election and economic relations.

Putin told traveling reporters he welcomed proposals set out by Poroshenko for ending the conflict. However he declined to say what they were and said Ukraine must halt what he called "punitive" military operations against pro-Russian separatists.

But he added: "I felt the attitude was right as a whole ... If this (plan) happens, then it creates conditions for the development of relations in other areas, including the economy."

 

Interfax in Ukraine cited Poroshenko as saying he expected a Russian representative" to come to Ukraine to discuss his ideas for a settlement plan. He added that he saw "good chances" of it being implemented.

Hollande had invited Poroshenko to Normandy as his personal guest at the last minute in an effort to break the ice between Moscow and Kiev even as fighting continued in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

The rebels shot down a Ukrainian army plane on Friday and killed a member of the interior ministry's special forces in the separatist stronghold of Slaviansk, where residents said shelling continued all day.

A White House official said Putin and Obama, who had avoided contact with the Russian leader while the two were in Paris on Thursday — also spoke to each other before the lunch.

"President Obama made clear that de-escalation depends upon Russia recognizing President-elect Poroshenko as the legitimate leader of Ukraine, ceasing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, and stopping the provision of arms and material across the border," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.

"If Russia does take this opportunity to recognize and work with the new government in Kiev, President Obama indicated that there could be openings to reduce tensions," he added.

World leaders and veterans paid tribute to soldiers who fell in the liberation of Europe from Nazi German rule, at a series of ceremonies around the Normandy beaches where allied forces landed 70 years ago on June 6, 1944.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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