ABOVE: What was said during Obama and Putin’s brief meeting in France?
BENOUVILLE, France – President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke Friday on the sidelines of a lunch for world leaders attending D-Day commemoration ceremonies, marking their first face-to-face conversation since the crisis in Ukraine erupted.
The conversation was informal and lasted 10-15 minutes inside a chateau where the leaders ate lunch, the White House said.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Obama and Putin had exchanged views about the situation in Ukraine and the crisis in the east, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting with pro-Russian insurgents.
“Putin and Obama spoke for the need to end violence and fighting as quickly as possible,” Peskov said.
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As leaders posed outside the building for a group photo before the lunch, Obama and Putin appeared to be avoiding each other deliberately. But once inside, they made time for their first such exchange since Putin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
As the crisis as developed, Obama and Putin spoke multiple times by phone. But they had not met in person until their mutual interest in paying tribute to the bravery of Allied forces 70 years ago brought them both to the shores of France.
Obama told reporters Thursday that if he and Putin ended up speaking, he would tell the Russian leader that he has a new path to engage with Ukraine through President-elect Petro Poroshenko, who is scheduled to take office Saturday.
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“If he does not, if he continues a strategy of undermining the sovereignty of Ukraine, then we have no choice but to respond” with more sanctions, Obama said.
Obama, who said his relationship with Putin is “businesslike,” expressed hope that the Russian leader is “moving in a new direction” on Ukraine since he didn’t immediately denounce Poroshenko’s election on May 25. “But I think we have to see what he does and not what he says,” Obama said.
Putin and Poroshenko also met in France on Friday, their first such meeting since Poroshenko was elected last month. The Kremlin said Putin and Poroshenko spoke of their desire for a quick end to hostilities in southeastern Ukraine.
The Obama-Putin meeting followed a gathering earlier in the week in Brussels of leaders from the Group of Seven wealthier nations who pointedly met without Putin. Afterward, the leaders said the Russian president could avoid tougher sanctions in part by recognizing the legitimacy of the government that takes over in Ukraine on Saturday and ending support for an insurgency in eastern Ukrainian cities that the U.S. has said is backed by the Kremlin.
There was no mention of rolling back Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which precipitated sanctions the U.S. and Europe levied on Russia in retaliation. The U.S. and its allies have said the move is illegal and that they will not recognize it.
Friday’s exchange came during a lunch hosted by French President Francois Hollande in Benouville. Obama and Putin were both in France, as were the other world figures, for the 70th anniversary of Allied troops storming the beaches at Normandy.