OUISTREHAM, France - Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke face-to-face with Ukraine's incoming president about ending the violence in the former Soviet state, and Kiev's new leader said talks could begin in earnest as soon as Sunday - a diplomatic breakthrough playing out along the battlefield beaches of Normandy.
Friday's 15-minute meeting was followed by a brief exchange between Putin and President Barack Obama, who had been keeping the Russian at arm's length over the Ukrainian crisis. Tensions between the two were played out on giant televisions on Ouistreham's Sword Beach, with Putin and Obama shown divided by a split screens as they commemorated the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
Speaking after his meeting with Petro Poroshenko - who is to be sworn in Saturday as Ukraine's president - Putin called for an immediate cease-fire in eastern Ukraine before any further talks, and said he expected Poroshenko to show "state wisdom" and "good will." Poroshenko later said talks could begin in earnest on his first full day in office.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko, center, talk after a group photo before a luncheon as they take part in the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Benouville in Normandy, France, Friday.
"All the questions were difficult," Poroshenko said in a statement to The Associated Press before returning to Ukraine, "but we will make every effort to achieve the goals we have set ourselves and begin negotiations on Sunday."
Putin said he welcomed Poroshenko's call for an end to the bloodshed and liked his approach to settling the crisis but wanted to wait until the Ukrainian leader could deliver it in detail to the nation.
"If it continues like that, then conditions will be created for developing our relations in other areas, including the economy," Putin said. He specified that Moscow is ready to lower gas price for Ukraine if it pays off its debt for previous supplies, easing fears of a gas shutdown to Europe dependent upon gas pipelines that cross Ukraine.
French President Francois Hollande, who orchestrated the meeting along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Putin and Poroshenko also discussed how Russia could recognize the Ukrainian elections as well as measures to de-escalate the fighting.
"It didn't last a long time but long enough for the message to be passed on," Hollande told the French network TF1.