In televised remarks opening Saturday's surprise visit, Hollande (left in photo) said he hoped the talks would help "rid ourselves of the walls that divide us." The French leader had announced the unexpected stopover in Moscow as he traveled from neighboring Kazakhstan back to Paris.
"We must find solutions together," Hollande said Saturday in Moscow.
Hollande's unscheduled flying visit came a day after he had vowed to work toward de-escalation in Ukraine, according to comments made Friday at a press conference in Kazakhstan.
The French president suggested that he, Putin (right in photo), German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko should make greater efforts to start the process of reducing tension together. On Saturday, the Ukrainian president wrote on his official Twitter account that he had spoken to Hollande by phone about how to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
'Without a doubt'
France suspended delivery of a warship to Russia last month after pressure from allies to cancel the sale because of tensions over the civil war in Ukraine, where many nations have accused Putin of arming and militarily supporting the separatists in a conflict that has so far killed more than 4,300 people. On Friday, France's defense minister said in a TV interview that the country could cancel delivery of both ships if the political situation did not change. Late last month, technical equipment was reported stolen from the warship, which is under construction at the port of Saint-Nazaire.
As Hollande and Putin sat across from each other on Saturday, the Russian president said that, though "difficult problems" existed, the talks would "without a doubt contribute to the resolution of many problems."
Though observers have noted the frequent contact between Putin and German Chancellor Merkel during the Ukraine conflict, such dialogue between Hollande and the Russian president has been a rarity. Both the European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Russia for what they see as its role in destabilizing Ukraine after the February ouster of the country's pro-Moscow president. More than 4,300 people have been killed in fighting in Ukraine's east and relations between Russia and the west have sunk to new post-Cold War depths.
Putin himself has not so fared so well of late. In addition to the hit Russia's economy has taken thanks to international sanctions, Pussy Riot, the performance activists imprisoned for protesting his rule, have recently won an international rights award, and a speech he gave Thursday evening was panned the world over.
mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP)