Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s president-elect Petro Poroshenko have discussed a ceasefire and other possible steps to de-escalate the crisis between their countries in a brief meeting in France, French officials said.
The meeting hosted by French President Francois Hollande, before D-Day celebrations on Friday, took place as clashes continued in eastern Ukraine near a border crossing with Russia, killing at least 15 pro-Russian separatists overnight.
Putin and Poroshenko reportedly discussed steps for a potential ceasefire during their 15-minute meeting.
In a statement carried by Russian news wires, the Kremlin said both leaders called for the “soonest end to bloodshed in southeastern Ukraine and combat by both parties, the Ukrainian armed forces and supporters of the federalisation of Ukraine.”
Later at a press conference, Putin called on Ukraine to stop “punitive” operations in the eastern part of its country.
It was the first meeting between the two men since pro-western chocolate tycoon Poroshenko won Ukraine’s presidential election on May 25.
“They were able to begin a dialogue on possible de-escalation measures including Moscow recognising Poroshenko’s election,” an aide to Hollande said, underlining that Putin would be sending an ambassador to Kiev on Saturday.
“The practicalities of a ceasefire will also be discussed in the coming days.”
Reports said the meeting had been prepared during several days of contacts but kept secret until it happened.
Hollande invited Poroshenko to Normandy as his personal guest at the last minute in an effort to break the ice between Moscow and Kiev.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera’s James Bays also reported that Putin also met briefly with US President Barack Obama during lunch for world leaders hosted by Hollande.
A US official told the Agence France Press news agency that during the 15-minute meeting, Obama told Putin he must de-escalate tensions in Ukraine, or face deeper international isolation.
“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 told reporters in France.
“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.”
World leaders and veterans earlier on Friday 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 on June 6, 1944.
Wreaths, parades and parachute-drops honoured history’s largest amphibious assault, in which 160,000 US, British and Canadian troops waded ashore to confront German forces, hastening its defeat and the advent of peace in Europe.
Flanked by war veterans, US President Barack Obama joined Hollande to commemorate the victory and reaffirm US-French solidarity before the marble headstones of fallen US soldiers at the Normandy American Cemetery.
“Our victory in that war decided not just a century, but shaped the security and well-being of all posterity,” Obama said.
He sought to link the sacrifices of World War II to US servicemen killed in combat since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda.
Twenty-one foreign leaders attended the commemorations, including Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister David Cameron, Canada’s Stephen Harper as well as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin, whose country suffered the heaviest casualties and struck decisive blows on the eastern front to defeat the Nazis.
More fighting in eastern Ukraine
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.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March and the continuing standoff between pro-Russian fighters and the Ukrainian army the country’s east have plunged Moscow’s relations with the US and European Union to a post-Cold War low.
On Friday, Anton Herashchenko, an aide to Ukraine’s interior minister, said government troops have killed a group of armed men, who came from Russia in trucks and an infantry vehicle, and tried to cross the border at the village of Marynivka late on Thursday.
Herashenko said the attackers were supported by about 100 rebels who came from the Ukrainian side of the border.
Al Jazeera’s Kim Vinnell, who was heading to Marynivka, also quoted Ukrainian military sources as saying that soldiers were wounded in the attack.
Government troops have for weeks been clashing with pro-Russian rebels who dismiss the Kiev government as illegitimate.
On Thursday, the Group of Seven industrial nations warned of tougher sanctions against Russia, if it continues to arm separatist rebels in Ukraine.
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(via Al Jazeera)