OUISTREHAM, France — Ukraine’s incoming president spoke briefly with Russian President Vladimir Putin after world leaders gathered for a photo today at D-Day commemoration ceremonies.
President-elect Petro Poroshenko, Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel lingered a while and chatted in a threesome.
Reporters observing the encounter couldn’t hear any of the animated conversation, which lasted about a minute.
No plans have been announced for a longer, formal meeting.
Deadly violence in eastern Ukraine was in many minds at the gathering in France, and a possible contact between Putin and Poroshenko was eagerly anticipated.
In recent weeks, Ukrainian officials say more than 200 people have died — a figure which can’t be independently confirmed — in fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian rebels.
Candy magnate Poroshenko, who is to be sworn in as Ukraine’s next president on Saturday, has promised a comprehensive plan to put an end to the hostilities in the east as soon as he assumes office.
Putin held his first face-to-face meetings with Western leaders in France this week since pro-European protesters pushed out Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president in February, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, and the U.S. and EU imposed sanctions in response.
Some Western leaders appear ready to allow Putin back into the international fold after months of isolation. He met British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande on Thursday night, and Merkel early today in the Normandy town of Deauville.
Russian officials did not elaborate on the outcome of the talks between Putin and Merkel but the Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said “the conversation mostly focused on the search for solutions and compromises,” rather than dwelling on the differences, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
German government spokesman Christiane Wirtz said that the German chancellor “took the opportunity to remind Russia again of its great responsibility” and said that following the presidential election in Ukraine, the priority needs to be a “stabilization of the situation, in particular in eastern Ukraine
President Barack Obama and Western allies opened a pathway for Russia to ease tensions in Ukraine on Thursday but pointedly warned Moscow it could face new sanctions within weeks if Putin fails to go along. The leaders said the Russian president could avoid tougher penalties in part by recognizing the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government and ending support for an insurgency in eastern cities that is widely believed to be backed by the Kremlin.
There was no mention of rolling back Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which precipitated the European crisis.
In Ukraine, at least 15 pro-Russian rebels were killed Thursday in clashes with government troops at a border crossing with Russia, an aide to the Ukrainian interior minister said.
Speaking on a television show, Anton Herashchenko said armed men came from Russia in trucks and an infantry vehicle and tried to cross the border at the village of Marynivka in eastern Ukraine, and were supported by 100 rebels from the Ukrainian side. His report of casualties could not be confirmed independently.
Following the clash, Ukraine’s government ordered the closing of parts of the border with Russia, including the Marynivka crossing, in an attempt to prevent armed men from infiltrating into its territory. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was “outraged” by this move.