|(Top) Light from the carpet is reflected on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s face as he passes President Barack Obama during a group photo at the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Benouville, France, on Friday; (Above) Putin talks to Ukraine President-elect Petro Poroshenko after the group photo. (Reuters)
Benouville (France), June 6: President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia held private talks with President Obama and with the newly elected leader of Ukraine today as both sides in the violent conflict in eastern Europe tried to ease a geopolitical showdown that has shaken the post-Cold War order.
Putin, invited here as part of a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, sat down for 15 minutes with Petro O. Poroshenko, who will be inaugurated as Ukraine’s President tomorrow, their first such session since the May 25 elections.
Putin also had an informal conversation with Obama on the sidelines of the commemoration.
French officials told reporters that Putin and Poroshenko had agreed to open more formal talks with the hope of negotiating a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have been waging a fierce insurgency that European and American officials say has been fomented by Moscow.
Dmitry S. Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, confirmed the meeting in an interview and said both sides had agreed that they needed a political solution to de-escalate the crisis. He said that the conversation had been cordial and brief and that there were no immediate plans for another meeting.
“They agreed on the need to stop the violence,” Peskov said. “It is a positive step — a very humble one, but it is positive.”
A White House official separately confirmed the discussion between Obama and Putin but did not immediately give details of the content. “It was an informal conversation, not a formal bilateral meeting,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
The conversation came after an awkward pas de deux between Obama and Putin, who initially seemed to be going out of their way not to acknowledge each other’s presence amid the world leaders gathered here.
During the few minutes that they were before international journalists, Obama and Putin did not speak to each other, did not shake hands and in fact seemed eager not to encounter each other, much like divorced parents at a child’s graduation.
Obama had refused to meet Putin during his four-day trip to Europe, even though his French, German and British counterparts all scheduled individual meetings with the Russian leader here in France. Still, aides had not ruled out the possibility of an informal conversation much like the one that evidently took place out of the public eye on the sidelines of the ceremonial luncheon.
The two were first seen together behind the chateau here as leaders from around Europe and elsewhere gathered to take a group photograph. President Francois Hollande of France stood in the middle with Queen Elizabeth II to his right and Obama to her right.
To Hollande’s left was Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and to her left was Putin.
Thus separated by three persons, Obama and Putin busied themselves talking with others. Obama jovially greeted Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, kissing her on both cheeks.
When the photograph was taken and the group began wandering into the chateau for lunch, Obama lingered behind, making sure that Queen Elizabeth, who was moving gingerly, got up the stairs and path all right.
Twitter users tore into Obama today after the President was seen chewing gum during solemn D-Day ceremonies. People took to Twitter to denounce Obama’s “shameful” and “vulgar” chewing.