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French President Meets With Putin In Moscow

French President Francois Hollande (left) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two met at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport on December 6.
French President Francois Hollande (left) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two met at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport on December 6.

French President Francois Hollande made a stopover visit to Russia and met briefly with President Vladimir Putin to discuss the crisis in neighboring Ukraine.

Details of the two leaders' discussions were still not entirely clear, but Hollande said as he met Putin at the diplomatic terminal of Moscow's Vnukovo Airport, "Mister President, I decided we should discuss problems regarding the Ukraine crisis."

Emerging from the meeting, Putin said Russia respected Ukraine's territorial integrity and hoped for the implementation of a cease-fire in Ukraine and additional exchanges of prisoners.

Putin also said as part of a genuine cease-fire, Ukraine should not blockade areas of eastern Ukraine that are currently under the control of pro-Russian separatists.

"I expect work will start to restore economic life and any elements of any form of blockade whatsoever will be excluded...otherwise it's difficult to imagine the restoration of the territorial integrity of the country," the Russian leader said.

Hollande said "de-escalation of the Ukrainian crisis is possible," if the cease-fire agreement, agreed to by both sides in Minsk in September, is fully implemented.

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

Western leaders have accused Russia of not only supplying weapons to the separatists in eastern Ukraine but also of sending Russian troops there to support the separatist militias battle Ukrainian forces.

Prior to the private meeting with Putin, the French president said, "There are times when we need to seize opportunities. This is such a time."

Hollande also said "We must prevent other walls from separating us."

Hollande was returning from a visit to Kazakhstan when he arrived in Moscow on the snap visit.

Hollande had consulted by telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ahead of his stop at Vnukovo Airport.

France's decision to suspend sale of two Mistral-class naval helicopter-carrier vessels was expected to also be a topic of the two leaders' talks, but after the meeting Putin said the subject had not been raised.

Putin said only that if France intended to cancel the sale Russia wanted its money refunded.

That deal was held up as part of sanctions imposed on Russia for the Kremlin's role in unrest in Ukraine and the unrecognized annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Also on December 6, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced a new round of talks with separatists from eastern Ukraine and representatives of Russia would be held in Minsk on December 9.

Poroshenko said while visiting the city of Kharkiv a "preliminary agreement" had been reached for the meeting.

Poroshenko noted the date of the meeting coincided with the "Day of Silence," a suspension of military operations Poroshenko had declared for that day.

Poroshenko said the December 9 talks would seek a genuine implementation of the cease-fire deal agreed to on September 5.

But separatist groups in eastern Ukraine cast shadows over Poroshenko's announcement.

Aleksei Karyakin, the so-called speaker of the People's Council of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LDR), said LDR head Igor Plotnitsky would not attend the December 9 talks but a "special representative" would go to Minsk.

Denis Pushilin, the so-called deputy parliamentary speaker of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), said the DNR preferred that the talks be held on December 12.

Based on reporting by AFP, Interfax, and Reuters
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