Guido Bergmann / Bundesregierung via Getty Images

Putin, Poroshenko meet briefly on sidelines of D-Day commemoration

Unscheduled meeting was their first since Poroshenko was elected Ukraine president; Putin and Obama also met at event

Russian President Vladimir Putin met informally with Ukraine's President-elect Petro Poroshenko on Friday on the sidelines of D-Day commemorations in France. It was the first meeting between the two leaders since Poroshenko was elected president, and comes during a week of intense diplomacy aimed at resolving the crisis in Ukraine.

The brief interactions took place after world leaders gathering for the commemoration in France posed for a group photo. French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought together Putin and Poroshenko for a 15-minute meeting before they joined other dignitaries for lunch.

Putin also then met informally with President Barack Obama for about 15 minutes, according to the White House. An administration official said Obama told Putin that de-escalation in Ukraine was possible if the Russian leader recognized the new Ukrainian government.

The Putin and Poroshenko meeting was the culmination of weeks of secret diplomacy by French officials to try to break the ice in the unresolved Ukrainian crisis. Hollande's office said Putin and Poroshenko shook hands and agreed that detailed talks on a ceasefire between Kiev government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine would begin within a few days. They also discussed steps such as Russian recognition of Poroshenko's election as well as economic relations.

"It was a normal, serious exchange between two leaders," said an official in Hollande's office. "This marks tentative progress which he [Hollande] welcomes, particularly given this occasion so symbolic for peace."

In Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman said the two leaders urged a "speedy end to the bloodshed in southeastern Ukraine as well as to fighting on both sides."

"It was confirmed that there is no other alternative to resolve the situation than through peaceful political means," the spokesman said.

Later in the day, Putin said that Ukraine must stop what he called a "punitive" military operation in its southeast region of the country and warned Russia would retaliate with measures to protect its economy if Kiev signed an association pact with the European Union. He also suggested that an immediate ceasefire was necessary for talks to begin.

Hollande had invited Poroshenko as his personal guest to the ceremonies for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, saying the event should be used to "serve the purposes of peace."

The brief interaction between Poroshenko and Putin comes as the two countries also remain entangled in a gas despute. Ukraine and Russia plan to restart talks during the coming weekend to resolve the conflict that centers over gas prices, and Kiev is considering paying off debts for last year's Russian supplies, a government source in Ukraine said Friday. The two sides held two days of talks earlier this week to try to settle the dispute, which could threaten gas flows to Europe.

Russia has threatened to cut off gas supplies to its neighbor unless Ukraine settles the debt by next Tuesday. That, in turn, could threaten flows to the European Union, which gets a third of its gas needs from Russia. Almost half of these supplies are sent via Ukraine.

Meanwhile, tensions in Ukraine remained tense Friday after Ukrainian forces fended off an attack by pro-Russian separatists on a border post in the east of the country late Thursday. It was the second major attack on a post straddling Ukraine and Russia in recent days. The Ukrainian government said as many as 15 people were killed in the attack, but the veracity of that claim could not be immediately verified.

Al Jazeera and wire services

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter