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Opinion

Opinion: Crying heroes, silent diplomacy

D-Day veterans deserved better than having commemorations of their bravery turn into a search for a solution to the Ukraine crisis. But the behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts were a success, says DW's Felix Steiner.

Every pan of the camera across the faces of the World War II veterans on hand in Normandy made clear why the anniversary is being commemorated in such a big way. The men, most of them either in their 90s or older, may not be alive for another major anniversary of the event.

There were moving moments at the many ceremonies held Friday (06.06.2014) on the French coast. Crying veterans remembering the countless comrades who died during those first hours of Operation Overlord. Nearly decrepit old men using all the effort they could muster to stand at attention. But their faces told of an unbelievable pride. A justified pride. These were the men who put their lives at risk to bring freedom and democracy back to Europe. Everyone who takes for granted being born into a free European society owes their thanks to these men. The D-Day veterans deserve all the honors they received.

The term D-Day took on a new meaning as the crisis in Ukraine continues. Diplomacy Day, the media called it, and expectations were high. France, as host of the ceremonies, did not rescind an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as with the G7 summit talks. Just the opposite, in fact: recently elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was also invited to the ceremonies.

The D-Day anniversary was the first opportunity for the leaders of Western governments to engage in talks with Putin since the Russian leader illegally annexed Crimea in March. The world eagerly watched to see who would talk with whom and what gestures or signals would be sent.

The day's diplomatic events were positive. French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks with Putin, as was scheduled earlier in the week. Their results were not surprising as both France and Germany have repeatedly called for a de-escalation of the situation and have as much to fear as Moscow if stricter sanctions were to be enacted. But a so-called "informal" meeting between US President Barack Obama and Putin was a positive surprise - though a "formal" meeting of the two leaders seems to out of the question for the time being.

But, undoubtedly, the best news of the day was the 15 minutes Putin and Poroshenko spent together. The meeting made discussions of whether Russia would send a representative to Poroshenko's swearing in on Saturday a moot point. The fact that the two men met can be seen as Russia recognizing Poroshenko as the winner of the presidential election. That both leaders called for an end to fighting in eastern Ukraine, on the other hand, initially sounds more important than it actually is. Putin emphasized his position that he, unfortunately, does not have any influence on the separatist groups operating there.

By the end of the day, some parallels could be seen with the situation on June 6, 1944: A good start has been made. But whether the entire operation will be a success remains unclear.

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