Video: Obama, Putin had "informal" meeting at Normandy commemoration

Actually, Vladimir Putin had a busy day at the D-Day commemoration on the beaches of Normandy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel collared Putin into a meeting with newly-elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and cajoled him over efforts to settle the violence on the border regions between Ukraine and Russia. That produced a call for a cease-fire from both men, which is a surprise implicit endorsement of Poroshenko’s election and status by Putin:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has met Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko for the first time since his election, at a D-Day event in France.

Russian officials said they called for a ceasefire and a quick end to the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine. …

The three leaders are said to have chatted for about 15 minutes, in between a photo for world leaders and a meal organised by French President Francois Hollande.

“During the brief conversation, both Putin and Poroshenko called for a quick end to the bloodshed in south-eastern Ukraine, and also to military activity by both sides”, said Kremlin aide Dmitry Peskov.

“The conversation took place on possible measures to de-escalate [the crisis], including how Moscow could recognise the election of Poroshenko,” a French official said.

“The details of a ceasefire will also be discussed in coming days.”

The White House downplayed the meeting between Obama and Putin as “an informal conversation”:

President Barack Obama and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin met Friday on the sidelines of D-Day anniversary events in France, according to the White House. …

The White House said Friday that Obama and Putin had had “an informal conversation – not a formal bilateral meeting” on the margins of a lunch attended by world leaders.

Obama sounded “stern” yesterday prior to the meeting, but left open the possibility of warming relations:

U.S. President Barack Obama had stern words for his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, following a meeting Thursday of G7 leaders in Brussels, Belgium, at which Russia was excluded.

Putin “has a chance to get back into a lane of international law,” Obama said.

But for this to happen, he said, Putin must take steps over the coming weeks that include recognizing Ukraine’s new President-elect Petro Poroshenko, stopping the flow of weapons over the border into Ukraine and ceasing Russian support for pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.

“We cannot simply allow drift,” Obama said, speaking alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron following bilateral talks.

“The mere fact that some of the Russian soldiers have moved back from the border and that Russia is now destabilizing Ukraine through surrogates, rather than overtly and explicitly, does not mean that we can afford three months, or four months, or six months, of continued violence and conflict in eastern Ukraine.”

Putin has talked about cease-fires before, mainly as a stalling device, without putting any pressure on his allies (or his own personnel, depending on your point of view) to actually cease their fire. With Ukraine’s successful election discrediting the armed insurrection, though, Putin’s string may be played out in the region, and eventually Moscow needs to get back to business with the rest of Europe. Putin came to the D-Day commemoration to see whether he could make inroads, but at least publicly, improved relations are still tied to an end to Russian interference in eastern Ukraine — although it now seems clear that the West has tacitly accepted the annexation of Crimea as a fait accompli.

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