D-Day spirit ignites Ukraine peace hopes

D-Day spirit ignites Ukraine peace hopes
Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Czech Republic's President Milos Zeman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Ukraine's President-elect Petro Poroshenko (L-R) attend the 70th Commemoration D-Day Ceremony at Sword Beach, Ouistreham, June 6, 2014.

BENOUVILLE, France - Russia and Ukraine appeared to have made a long-awaited breakthrough in efforts to resolve a damaging crisis in their relations after conciliatory talks on the sidelines of Friday's D-Day anniversary ceremonies.

Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko embraced the spirit of the day that signalled the end of World War II by announcing they would jointly seek a ceasefire in the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in southeastern Ukraine.

The two leaders shook hands and talked for a quarter of an hour in a meeting brokered by French President Francois Hollande before a lunch of world leaders attending the D-Day events.

A series of positive commentaries on the encounter followed from both Kiev and Moscow, raising hopes of a peaceful de-escalation of a crisis that erupted when Russia annexed Crimea in March and sparked a damaging chill in its relations with western powers.

The rift with the West looked to be healing too as Putin had his first face-to-face encounter with US President Barack Obama. US officials styled the meeting as an informal chat but Putin portrayed them as "substantial" discussions.

Putin told Russian TV that Poroshenko had the "right approach" to ending the crisis while the Ukrainian president-elect, who is due to be inaugurated on Saturday, said he believed there was a "good chance" of a successful dialogue with Moscow.

Putin revealed that the two countries were close to a deal on the vexed issue of Russian gas supplies to its former Soviet partner.

Russia has been accused of holding Ukraine to ransom as a result of energy giant Gazprom's doubling of the price of gas it supplies to the country and its demand for a rapid settlement of arrears.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two men had urged "the soonest possible end to bloodshed in southeastern Ukraine, and to military operations on both sides - both by the Ukrainian armed forces and by supporters of the federalisation of Ukraine.

"They also confirmed that there was no alternative to resolving the situation with peaceful political methods."

Police officer killed 

It was the first meeting between the two leaders since pro-Western chocolate tycoon Poroshenko won Ukraine's presidential election on May 25.

Russia indicated it would send an ambassador to Kiev for Poroshenko's investiture in what will be seen as de facto recognition of the new president's legitimacy.

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