Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a telephone call with his French counterpart Francois Hollande on Friday, urged a halt to bloodshed in Ukraine and the start of talks between Kiev and eastern separatists.
- More OSCE Observers Missing in Ukraine
- Ukraine Chopper Shot Down Near Slovyansk
- The Point of No Return
- U.S.: Russia Withdrew Troops From Border
The telephone call, which the Kremlin said was initiated by the French side, took place before a planned meeting between the two leaders on June 5 in Paris that will be Putin's first with a Western leader since the annexation of Crimea.
Russia is at loggerheads with Western leaders and Kiev over Crimea and allegations that it is fomenting the rebellions among the largely Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine following protests that overthrew Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich in February.
"Putin noted the need for the authorities in Kiev to immediately halt the violence and bloodshed and for the start of direct dialogue between Kiev and representatives of the country's southeastern regions," the Kremlin said in a statement.
It confirmed Putin would attend the 70th anniversary of the World War Two D-Day landings in Normandy, France, where he will be mixing with foreign leaders including Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko, U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Although Putin has frequently spoken to foreign heads of state and government by telephone since the start of the Ukraine crisis, his last known meeting with a Western leader was during the February Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Ukraine's acting defense minister said on Friday that Ukrainian forces would press ahead with a military offensive against rebels in the east until peace and order had been restored there.
Speaking after 14 servicemen, including a general, were killed on Thursday when rebels shot down an army helicopter, the minister, Mykhailo Koval, said: "Our given task is to bring peace and order to the region."
Earlier Friday, in a phone call to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Washington to pressure Ukraine's interim government to stop its military operation in eastern Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
"Lavrov urged the United States to encourage the authorities in Kiev to...immediately cease military operations and begin direct negotiations with (representatives of) the southeastern regions," the ministry said in a statement.