French President François Hollande managed an awkward diplomatic tête-à-tête with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday as the Russian leader landed in Paris ahead of Friday’s D-Day 70th anniversary commemoration.
As host of the D-Day 70th anniversary commemoration, Hollande held two separate dinners Thursday night with US President Barack Obama and Putin as the French president negotiated a delicate diplomatic dance between leaders deeply split over the Ukraine crisis.
Putin arrived in France Thursday evening for his first face-to-face meetings with Western leaders since Russia seized Crimea earlier this year.
On the eve of the main D-Day ceremony set for Friday, world leaders engaged in a bout of shuttle diplomacy as fighting continued in Donetsk, one of two eastern Ukrainian regions that have declared their independence from Kiev.
British Prime Minister David Cameron met with Putin in a customs area of the French capital’s Charles De Gaulle airport Thursday evening.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Cameron said he gave Putin "a very clear and firm set of messages" that a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis was possible if Russia helped calm the situation.
Nearly 20 world leaders – including Ukraine's president-elect, Petro Poroshenko – are due to attend Friday’s D-Day anniversary commemorations.
Earlier this week, Putin signaled that he could meet Poroshenko, the chocolate tycoon who is due to be inaugurated as president on Saturday, and insisted he was ready for talks with Obama. No official talks have been planned between the US and Russian leaders.
The US and the EU want Putin to recognise the results of Ukraine's May 25 election, start a dialogue with Poroshenko and end support for the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
These were the positions Cameroon underlined during his meeting with Putin Thursday. "The status quo, the situation today, is not acceptable and it needs to change," Cameron told reporters at the airport. "We need the Russians to properly recognise and work with this new president. We need de-escalation, we need to stop arms and people crossing the border. We need action on these fronts.”
Shortly after the meeting, Putin arrived at the Elysée presidential palace, where he was greeted by Hollande, who had earlier dined with Obama.
First G7 since Russia’s expulsion
Obama arrived in the French capital from Brussels, where the leaders of the G7 group of nations threatened to slap further sanctions on Russia if Moscow did not halt its actions to destabilise Ukraine.
Putin was banned from the G7 summit – known as the G8 when Russia participates – following the annexation of Crimea in March. The G7 summit was to have been hosted by Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi but the venue was switched to Brussels following the crisis.
Obama, who had a rushed dinner with Hollande in a Paris restaurant before the French leader's late-night 'supper' with Putin, called on Russia to take concrete steps to demonstrate it was willing to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
"We will have a chance to see what Mr Putin does over the next two, three, four weeks,” said Obama. “If he remains on the current course we've already indicated the actions we are prepared to take."
The diplomatic shuttling in France came as the Ukrainian authorities admitted they had been forced to abandon three checkpoints on the border with Russia after nightly assaults by pro-Russian separatists.
Earlier Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the G7 leaders had "exchanged expectations" about Ukraine and Russia.
"On substance, there is no difference whatsoever," she said. "There is great common ground."
But beneath the surface, a number of issues divide the leaders gathered in France.
At a press conference in Brussels Thursday at the end of the G7 summit, Obama admitted that he expressed concern to France about its intentions to keep building warships for Russia as Europe and the US are trying to isolate Russia over the Ukrainian crisis.
Obama noted that he recognised the three-year-old deal had important implications for the French job market. But, he added, “I think it would have been preferable to press the pause button,” on France’s plans to sell two Mistral warships to Russia.
France is facing mounting pressure from allies to cancel the 1.2-billion-euro deal on the grounds that Russia could use the ships against its Black Sea neighbours.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS, AFP)
Date created : 2014-06-05