COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, FRANCE – The leaders of Russia and Ukraine held their first talks 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 II D-Day landings.
French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought together Russian President 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 U.S. President Barack Obama in which, according to a White House official, he urged Putin 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 cease-fire between Kiev government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine will 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.”
A senior French official present at the meeting said they had discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine, which Moscow has threatened to cut in a dispute about payment of arrears, as well as key elements of Poroshenko’s inaugural address on Saturday.
“If all goes well, they will speak to each other again on Monday to maintain the contact,” the French official said.
Interfax in Ukraine cited Poroshenko as saying he expects a Russian representative to come to Ukraine to discuss his ideas for a settlement plan. He added that he sees “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.