• Hollande called German people 'victims of Nazism' and paid tribute to Soviet people and soldiers (Photo: elysee.fr)

Putin-Poroshenko meeting raises EU hopes

06.06.14 @ 17:24

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Petro Poroshenko in France is a “good sign” which amounts to “de facto recognition” of Ukraine’s new, pro-Western leader, EU sources say.

The two men met on their way into a VIP lunch at the Chateau de Benouville in Normandy at a D-Day anniversary on Friday (6 June), where they spoke for one minute together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

They then held a 15-minute long tete-a-tete inside the venue. The office of the French President says they spoke about Russia’s potential recognition of Poroshenko and about the possibility of a ceasefire between pro-Russia fighters and Ukrainian forces in east Ukraine.

Russia’s formal recognition of Ukraine’s 25 May presidential election is one of the EU and US conditions for normalising relations.

Putin and Poroshenko, who served in past Ukrainian governments, have met several times before. But for the EU, their first face-to-face talks since the crisis are a good omen.

“We have to see what comes out of this beyond words and what happens afterward. But it’s obviously a good sign that they are talking and it also amounts to a de facto recognition by Russia of Ukraine’s next president,” a contact in the EU delegation in Benouville told EUobserver.

US leader Barack Obama also spoke with Putin on Friday in their first face-to-face meeting since the crisis.

The opportunity for leaders to mingle in France has raised hopes of a breakthrough in EU circles.

Putin also held separate talks with Merkel, with French President Francois Hollande, and with British PM David Cameron on Thursday evening.

Not all of the meetings were cordial.

Official French photos showed Hollande greeting the Russian leader with a friendly handshake. But official Russian photos of Merkel showed her frowning.

Her office said Russia bears the “greatest responsibility” for ending the violence.

Cameron told press “this was a meeting with a very clear and firm set of messages … the situation today is not acceptable and it needs to change. It needs the Russians to properly recognise and work with the new president. It needs de-escalation. We need to stop arms and people crossing the border.”

The D-Day solemnities paid tribute to the more than 4,000 allied soldiers who died in the landings on 6 June 1944.

VIPs and veterans assembled at the d’Ouistreham beach in Normandy on Friday for the main event.

There was a moment of levity when a giant TV wall showed, in split screen, Obama and Putin’s faces, prompting both men to smile and a ripple of laughter in the crowd.

Hollande, in his keynote speech, called for d’Ouistreham to be listed by the UN’s heritage organisation, Unesco, as a lesson for future generations.

“To the veterans, the survivors, who are here with us today, in the same place they landed 70 years ago, where they fought, where they struggled, where they were wounded, I would like to extend, in the name of France, a brotherly salute … If we can live today in peace, in security, in sovereignty, under the rule of the law which we have willed, it’s thanks to them and to those who gave their lives,” he said.

He listed the allied countries which took part in the D-Day landings.

He said “German people” were also “victims of Nazism”.

Amid increasingly hostile rhetoric between Western countries and Russia, he added, to applause: “I want to salute the courage of the Red Army, which, far from here also fought … and the people of the Soviet Union. We are also in debt to them for what they did for the sake of our liberty.”

With Putin and Poroshenko sitting four chairs apart in the front row of the audience, and with Russia’s attack on Ukraine having already cost dozens of lives, Hollande said: “If we have been chosen as heads of state or government, it is to serve peace and to find solutions so that conflicts do not degenerate into wars”.

“The memory of the dead creates obligations for the living.”