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Hopes For Thaw On Ukraine At D-Day Commemoration

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) met with French President Francois Hollande ahead of D-Day's 70th anniversary on June 6.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) met with French President Francois Hollande ahead of D-Day's 70th anniversary on June 6.
World leaders are gathering in Normandy, France, for ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of World War II.

With Russian President Vladimir Putin attending -- as well as U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders of France, Germany, Britain, and Canada -- there are hopes for a thaw in tensions over Ukraine’s crisis.

Obama and Putin are not scheduled to hold a formal meeting. But the two men were expected to have some contact during a lunch of leaders on June 6 in Normandy.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Paris on the eve of the Normandy ceremonies.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister David Cameron are all using the D-Day commemorations as a backdrop for separate meetings with Putin about the Ukraine crisis.

Aides for Hollande say he will try to get Putin to shake hands with Ukraine’s president-elect, Petro Porosenko, during the D-Day commemorations for what could be a first step toward defusing tensions.

Aides for Obama said Washington was pressing the French, German, and British leaders to outline the specific conditions that Putin will have to meet in order to avoid expanded sanctions.

At a Brussels summit on June 5, Group of Seven (G7) leaders warned Putin that entire sectors of the Russian economy could be targeted by expanded sanctions unless Putin brought an end to Russia's "destabilizing" actions in eastern Ukraine.

Describing Russia’s behavior as "unacceptable interference in Ukraine’s sovereign affairs," the G7 said Putin must recognize the results of Ukraine's May 25 presidential election and start a dialog with Poroshenko.

The G7 also said Putin must end Russia’s support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and stop the flow of Russian weapons across the border into Ukraine.

The United States and the European Union already have imposed sanctions on specific businesses and individuals with ties to Putin.

But so far, they have stopped short of imposing harsher penalties against Russia’s key economic sectors -- including its energy industry.

If there is no change in Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, the G7 leaders warned that expanded sanctions could be imposed within weeks -- possibly by the time the European Council meets in late June.

British Prime Minister Cameron met with Putin in Paris late on June 5, saying later that he had given the Russian president a "very clear and firm set of messages" about Russia’s behavior in Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev criticized the G7’s position as "cynicism without limit."
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, ITAR-TASS and Interfax
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