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Putin 'hopes for' Ukraine ceasefire

December 7, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin has struck a conciliatory tone during a visit by his French counterpart. Francois Hollande is the first Western leader to visit Moscow since Russia annexed Crimea.

Moskau Hollande bei Putin und Lawrov 06.12.2014
Image: Reuters//Maxim Zmeyev

The two leaders used their talks at the diplomatic terminal of an airport just outside Moscow on Saturday to discuss the ongoing conflict between government troops and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, which has led to a major chill in relations between the West and the Kremlin.

Following their meeting, Putin, who just days ago used his annual state-of-the-nation address to warn Russians of difficult times ahead due to sanctions imposed by the West on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, struck a more moderate tone than expected.

"I very much hope that in the near future we will have a final ceasefire agreement" in east Ukraine, Putin said in remarks broadcast on Russian television.

Without a fully-implemented truce, "it is difficult to picture Ukraine as a territorially integral country, and Russia, as is well-known, supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine," he added.

For his part, Hollande said the "de-escalation of the Ukrainian crisis is possible," if a ceasefire agreed by both the Ukraine government and the rebels at talks held in Minsk in September was fully implemented.

"France wants this crisis to end because it is causing suffering, for Ukrainians and because of the sanctions, and because it prevents relations with Russia from proceeding as they should," Hollande added.

In consultation with Merkel

The AFP news agency cited a source within Hollande's delegation who said that the French president's unscheduled stopover, while en route from neighboring Kazakhstan to Paris, had been planned in consultation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

The short visit came ahead of next week's scheduled talks between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russia rebels in Minsk next week, which are aimed at rescuing the much-violated ceasefire agreed in September. According to the United Nations, around 1,000 people have been killed since the truce came into force.

Tensions between Moscow and the West have been elevated since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula back in March. The West also accuses the Kremlin of supporting the pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine by providing them with personnel and arms, and has imposed a series of economic sanctions as a result.

Mistral deal not discussed

Another bone of contention between Moscow and Paris is a deal in which France is to deliver warships to Russia. However, France has delayed the delivery of the first Mistral, which had been due this autumn, due to the annexation of Crimea.

Putin said he had not discussed the matter with Hollande on Saturday, but that he was working on the assumption that France would honor the contract. If not he said, France would be required to return the money that it has been paid, but that Russia would "act with understanding no matter how these events develop."

pfd/sm (AP, AFP)