Putin: Immediate Ceasefire Needed for Talks on Eastern Ukraine

Obama urges Russian president to ease tensions in Ukraine; Putin briefly meets newly-elected Ukrainian leader during D-Day event in France.

The Associated Press
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An archive photo from June 6, 2014 showing Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko (L), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) and Russian President Vladimir Putin.Credit: Reuters
The Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin says an immediate ceasefire in eastern Ukraine is necessary to create conditions for talks.

Putin, speaking to reporters in Normandy in remarks televised live on Russian television Friday, said that he expects Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko to show "good will" and "state wisdom." Putin also said that Moscow is ready for constructive discussion with Ukraine on settling its gas debt to Russia.

Earlier on Friday, he and Poroshenko met for 15 minutes to discuss the main issues related to settling the crisis, Putin said.

During a brief informal meeting in France, U.S. President Barack Obama urged Putin to seize the opportunity to ease tensions in Ukraine after the election of Poroshenko as president, a White House official said.

"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 with Obama for D-Day commemorations 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," he added.

"The conversation took place on possible measures to de-escalate (the crisis) including how Moscow could recognize the election of Poroshenko. The details of a ceasefire will also be discussed in coming days," the official in French President Hollande's office said, adding that they also discussed the economic consequences of the stand-off.

World leaders commemorate D-Day, but all eyes set on Ukraine

World leaders and veterans gathered by the beaches of Normandy under clear blue skies on Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, with host France hoping the event will help bring a thaw to the Ukraine crisis.

The leaders of around 20 countries are due to attend a series of events in Normandy, culminating in a ceremony on Sword Beach in the afternoon evoking the events of June 6, 1944, when 130,000 Allied soldiers disembarked at dawn on Nazi-occupied territory.

The fighting on that day alone claimed 3,000 Allied troops and the lives of a further 3,000 civilians.
Earlier Friday, Obama called on Americans to observe Friday as D-Day National Remembrance Day. "Seventy years later, we pay tribute to the service members who secured a beachhead on an unforgiving shore — the patriots who, through their courage and sacrifice, changed the course of an entire century," Obama said in a proclamation. "Today, as we carry on the struggle for liberty and universal human rights, let us draw strength from a moment when free nations beat back the forces of oppression and gave new hope to the world."

Upon his arrival in France late Thursday, Putin had talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron and also met for around 90 minutes with French President Francois Hollande, French news agency AFP reported.

The French and British leaders had met in Brussels hours earlier with their counterparts from the Group of Seven (G7), who agreed on a common set of demands for Russia, while upholding the threat of sanctions if Moscow further destabilizes the situation in Ukraine.

The G7 leaders' appeal for de-escalation includes a demand that Putin recognize the outcome of recent elections in Ukraine and cooperate with president-elect Petro Poroshenko, who was also invited to Normandy.

Putin has yet to recognize the legitimacy of the Ukrainian leader who is set to be sworn in on Saturday, although Russia is sending its ambassador to his inauguration.

The 20 world leaders will gather over lunch in Benouville castle, a landmark of the French resistance to the Nazis. British Queen Elizabeth II will also be present.

Summit snub

Hollande underlined the diplomatic opportunity presented by the D-Day ceremonies, saying: "It is also a major international event which should serve the interests of peace."

Obama told reporters on Thursday that Russia would face new sanctions if it fails to recognize Ukraine's new government and does not work to calm violence from militants in the east of Russia's fellow former Soviet neighbor.

"There is a path in which Russia has the capacity to engage directly with President Poroshenko now. He should take it," Obama said. "If he does not - if he continues a strategy of undermining the sovereignty of Ukraine, then we have no choice but to respond."

Behind the facade of G7 unity, differences emerged over a 1.2 billion euro ($1.63 billion) French contract to sell two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia. Obama said Paris should have pressed "the pause button" on the deal.

"These contracts have for the most part been paid up and they stand for many jobs," Fabius said on Friday. "The French tradition, which is the same as the United States', is to honour its contracts."

However Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Inter radio that a decision would be taken in the light of the international situation later this year when the first ship is due to be delivered.

Washington says the deal sends the wrong message to Russia at a time of sanctions imposed by Western states on Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine.  

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