The leaders of Russia and Ukraine met on Friday for the first time since Moscow annexed Crimea as world leaders commemorated the 70th anniversary of the World War Two D-Day landings in France.
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 an official lunch for visiting world dignitaries.
Hollande’s office said the two men 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.
They also discussed political steps to de-escalate the crisis including Russian recognition of Poroshenko’s election as well as economic relations, reuters.com reports.
‘It was a normal, serious exchange between two leaders,’ an official in Hollande’s office said, adding that the meeting had been prepared by several days of contacts but kept secret until it happened.
The president invited Poroshenko to Normandy as his personal guest at the last minute in an effort to break the ice between Moscow and Kyiv even as fighting continues in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.
Twenty-one foreign leaders attended the commemorations, including Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister David Cameron, Canada’s Stephen Harper as well as Merkel and Putin, whose country suffered the heaviest casualties and struck decisive blows on the eastern front to defeat the Nazis.
But while the unity of allies and their bloody sacrifices were the central theme of D-Day remembrance, private talks among government leaders focused on the most serious security crisis in Europe for more than two decades: Ukraine. Fighting continued in eastern Ukraine as Ukrainian forces fended off an attack by pro-Russian separatists on a border post there late on Thursday. The attack was repelled by air strikes but the insurgency has escalated in the past two weeks, killing scores and prompting some families to flee.
A Group of Seven (G7) summit of industrialised nations in Brussels on Thursday, from which Putin was excluded, urged Russia to work with Kiev’s new authorities to restore stability in eastern Ukraine or face possible tougher sanctions.