Obama urges Putin to seize opportunity to work with Ukraine

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 11:45pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 June, 2014, 9:35am

US President Barack Obama personally told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin yesterday he must de-escalate tensions in Ukraine or face deeper international isolation, a US official said.

Obama and Putin spoke 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 between the US and Russian leaders was informal and lasted 10 to 15 minutes inside a chateau where the leaders dined, the White House said.

The officials offered no details of the atmospherics or the tone of the talks.

"President Obama underscored that the successful Ukrainian election provides an opportunity that should be taken," said Ben Rhodes, a deputy US national security adviser. But there was a hint of a carrot for Putin.

"If Russia does take this opportunity to recognise and work with the new government in Kiev, President Obama indicated that there could be openings to reduce tensions," Rhodes said.

Putin had earlier met Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko and the two leaders called for an end to bloodshed and violence.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Ukrainian and Russian leaders held a brief "standing up" conversation along with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel. As leaders posed outside the building for a group photo before the lunch, Obama and Putin appeared to be avoiding each other.

For the group photo, they both took spots in the front row, while separated by three leaders. After the photo, they passed by one another without acknowledging it. As Putin walked with Hollande, Obama was directly behind him, walking with England's Queen Elizabeth.

But once inside the Chateau de Benouville, near Caen in Normandy, they made time for their first such exchange since Putin annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. As the crisis developed, the two leaders spoke several times by phone. But they had not met in person until yesterday.

Obama told reporters on 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 Poroshenko, who is scheduled to take office today.

Obama, who says his relationship with Putin is "business-like," expressed hope that the Russian leader was "moving in a new direction" on Ukraine since he did not immediately denounce Poroshenko's election on May 25.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse