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Russian, Ukrainian leaders meet in Normandy

Putin urges cease-fire

OUISTREHAM, France – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday spoke for the first time with Ukraine’s president-elect, praising his intention to end the violence that has engulfed eastern Ukraine and urging an immediate cease-fire.

Speaking to reporters in Normandy in remarks broadcast live on Russian television, Putin said he expects Petro Poroshenko, who is to be sworn for office on Saturday, to show “good will” and “state wisdom.”

Putin also said that Russia is ready for constructive discussion with Ukraine on settling its gas debt to Russia.

He said that he and Poroshenko met for 15 minutes to discuss the main issues related to settling the crisis.

“I can only welcome Mr. Poroshenko’s position that the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine must be stopped immediately,” Putin said, adding that Poroshenko briefly told him about his initiatives intended to end hostilities.

The pair’s brief meeting took place at a chateau in northern France’s Benouville, on the sidelines of ceremonies honoring the bravery of those who battled for Europe’s peace during World War II.

The Russian president said he liked Poroshenko’s approach, but added he will be waiting for the Ukrainian leader to deliver it in detail to the country.

Putin didn’t say whether Russia was prepared to take any action to persuade pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine to stop fighting Ukraine’s government troops.

Putin has denied claims by Ukraine and the West that Russia has fomented the rebellion in eastern Ukraine. He insisted that Poroshenko needs to speak directly to the representatives of the east.

“It’s not Russia and Ukraine that need to be parties to the negotiations, as Russia isn’t a party to the conflict. It should be the authorities in Kiev and supporters of federalization in the east,” he said.

Poroshenko, speaking to journalists in Normandy, said he expected Russia to quickly recognize his election, according to the Interfax news agency.

Poroshenko is expected to detail his peace plan, which he said would include an amnesty and an offer of early regional elections, following his Saturday’s inauguration.

The meeting between Putin and Poroshenko came on the same day that Putin spoke with President Barack Obama, who had been keeping the Russian leader at arm’s length over the Ukrainian crisis that has rekindled Cold War-era tensions.

Putin said he and Obama spoke twice Friday, and their conversation was “quite substantive.”

Putin, who was frozen out of G-7 talks Thursday in Brussels, appeared to be moving incrementally back into the fold of the West following his first direct talks with the man elected to lead Ukraine after the previous pro-Kremlin president was ousted in what Putin has called a coup.

Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Angela Charlton of the Associated Press in Paris, Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Julie Pace in Benouville, France, contributed to this report.

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