Putin to meet Western leaders at D-Day ceremony in France
Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Western leaders for the first time since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis when he attends a second world war anniversary in France next month, the Russian ambassador to Paris said yesterday.
US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are among those due to attend the June 6 ceremony in Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
The White House last night ruled out any one-on-one meeting between Obama and Putin at the ceremony.
Russian Ambassador Alexander Orlov confirmed Putin's planned attendance, after France's president and defence minister both said the Russian leader - accused by the West of destabilising neighbouring Ukraine - was still welcome to come.
"I have told Vladimir Putin, as representative of the Russian people, that he is welcome to attend the ceremony," President Francois Hollande said. Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian went further, saying that cancelling the invitation would be a historical insult. "It is in the order of things that he should be there," he said.
Moscow's relations with the West have worsened dramatically since Ukrainians toppled their pro-Russian president in February and Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
The US and European Union have imposed sanctions on dozens of Russians, and leaders of the Group of Seven leading nations pulled out of a summit with Putin next month in Sochi.
Next month's ceremony commemorates the troop landings that eventually led to German forces being caught between the advancing Western allies and the Soviet army in the east.
"It was the landings that led to the Normandy campaign, but the campaign would not have been successful without the Eastern front. In these moments of commemoration it is important that all of those who took part should be present," Le Drian said.