German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin have held formal talks lasting around one hour in Deauville, France. Both were present for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy.
Merkel and Putin spent their time in northern France discussing ways "to achieve a stabilization of the situation, especially in the east of Ukraine," according to a statement from the government in Berlin issued after the talks. It was one of a string of diplomatic appointments concerning Ukraine taking place amid the D-Day memorial ceremonies.
The two leaders have had regular phone calls through the various stages of unrest in Ukraine, from the start of protests against former President Viktor Yanukovych, to the annexation of Crimea by Russia, through to the current, internal unrest in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. However, this was their first face-to-face meeting since September 6, at a G20 summit.
"Putin and Merkel concentrated entirely on the Ukrainian issues - on the search for a Ukrainian solution," Putin's spokesman Dmitri Peskov said afterwards. Asked whether there were differences of opinion, Peskov responded: "That was precisely the reason for the talks."
The two leaders shook hands on meeting, but then sat comparatively far apart in the Deauville hotel, both in front of flags of their respective countries. A correspondent for the DPA news agency described the atmosphere as "chilly."
The Russian government had said shortly before the talks that a plan would be on the table at Deauville designed to bring an end to the unrest in Ukraine, although the German government made no mention of this.
Steinmeier to St. Petersburg
Merkel also wrote about Ukraine in an editorial for the newspaper "Ouest France" on Friday that largely focused on the D-Day anniversary.
"Peace and freedom can quickly be called into question," Merkel wrote. "The conflict in Ukraine is showing us this. The concern, that new trenches and dividing lines are appearing, is plain to see."
Germany's Foreign Ministry announced during Merkel and Putin's meeting that Frank-Walter Steinmeier would travel for talks with his Polish and Russian counterparts in St. Petersburg next Tuesday.
A survey conducted by public broadcaster ARD and published on Friday found that 89 percent of German respondents favored continued diplomacy and dialogue with Russia over efforts to entirely marginalize Moscow for its role in Ukraine's unrest.
Merkel met Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko in Berlin on Thursday, before departing for France. Poroshenko, like Putin, is attending the D-Day ceremonies, and the Reuters and AFP news agencies have reported that the two men did speak on Friday - at least briefly.
msh/pfd (AFP, dpa, Reuters)