Ukraine diplomacy kicks into high gear at G-7 meet

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the months-long standoff between Ukraine and Russia might end up with a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s president-elect, France’s president said on Thursday.

Francois Hollande will host D-Day commemorations in Normandy on Friday and said Putin and Ukraine’s president-elect, Petro Poroshenko, will be in close proximity to one another. ‘Could President Putin meet with President Poroshenko? Yes,’ Hollande said at the end of a Brussels summit of the Group of Seven major economies.

‘President Putin has been told. And he is coming, knowing he will be alongside, anyway not far from, the Ukraine president,’ Hollande said. Russia has signaled its readiness for a direct dialogue with Poroshenko, a billionaire candy tycoon, who was elected 25 May. After the G-7 group kept the threat of further sanctions against Russia on the table, Thursday’s action was moving from Brussels to Paris where at least two tete-a-tete meetings were planned between Putin and European leaders, including a dinner with Hollande.

If President Barack Obama didn’t envisage such an encounter, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the eve of D-Day commemorations in Normandy.
European leaders are hoping the famous beaches, which saw the turning point in World War II, may now serve as a diplomatic platform to end the Ukraine-Russia crisis. ‘It is an exceptional international meeting that must serve the cause of peace,’ Hollande said.

When asked if there even might be a Putin-Obama meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, ‘we will see over the day what meetings and formats there will be tomorrow.’

Obama plans to meet Thursday with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Brussels, and then take a short flight to Paris for dinner with Hollande. The U.S. and Europe started out showing solidarity against Putin. But differing approaches are now emerging, and European leaders are planning separate, private meetings with Putin in Paris while Obama is steering clear of him. Merkel insisted though, that if appearances differ, the intent among the leaders is identical when facing Putin.

‘There is absolute agreement. Every one of us is an individual and has his way of presenting things but on the substance there are no differences,’ Merkel said before her meeting with Putin. Interest to draw Putin closer to the international fold was worldwide.

‘We would like Russia to be engaged constructively in various international issues as a responsible nation. The world is desirous of that,’ Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after the G-7 summit. ‘To that end as well, I shall continue my dialogue with President Putin.’

The May 25 Ukraine election, which came three months after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was chased from office by crowds following months of street protests and allegations of corruption, was seen as a critical step toward resolving Ukraine’s protracted crisis. Since his ouster, Russia has annexed the Crimea Peninsula in southern Ukraine, the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk have declared their independence from Kiev.
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