Ukraine president-elect Poroshenko, German Chancellor Merkel and Russian President Putin talk after a group photo during the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Benouville, France. Credit: Reuters
The leaders of Russia and Ukraine held their first talks on Friday since Moscow annexed Crimea, discussing ways to end their four-month conflict in a brief encounter during commemorations in France of the World War Two D-Day landings.
French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought together Russia's Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko for a 15-minute meeting before they joined other dignitaries for lunch.
The meeting was the culmination of weeks of secret diplomacy by French officials to try to break the ice in the most serious European security crisis since the end of the Cold War.
Putin later had an equally short "informal" talk with U.S. President Barack Obama, the White House said.
Hollande's office said Putin and Poroshenko shook hands and agreed that detailed talks on a ceasefire between Kiev government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine would begin within a few days.
They also discussed steps such as Russian recognition of Poroshenko's election as well as economic relations.
Poroshenko was photographed looking unsmiling and earnest as he stood with Putin and Merkel.
"It was a normal, serious exchange between two leaders," an official in Hollande's office said.
"This marks tentative progress which he (Hollande) welcomes, particularly given this occasion so symbolic for peace."
In Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman said the two leaders urged a "speedy end to the bloodshed in southeastern Ukraine as well as to fighting on both sides".
"It was confirmed that there is no other alternative to resolve the situation than through peaceful political means," the spokesman said.
Hollande had invited Poroshenko to Normandy as his personal guest at the last minute in an effort to break the ice between Moscow and Kiev even as fighting continues in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.
A White House official said Putin and Obama, who had avoided contact with the Russian leader while the two were in Paris on Thursday - also spoke to each other before the lunch.
"It was an informal conversation - not a formal bilateral meeting," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said by email, adding the encounter lasted 10-15 minutes.