Ukraine's Poroshenko hails 'start of Russia dialogue'

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Media captionThe Russian and Ukrainian leaders met as fighting continued in eastern Ukraine

Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko has hailed a meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin as a start of dialogue over the east Ukraine crisis.

Mr Poroshenko, who is to be inaugurated on Saturday, said he expected to be recognised soon by Moscow and that talks would start on Sunday.

Mr Putin welcomed Kiev's approach, but said an immediate ceasefire was needed before negotiation began.

The two men met on the sidelines of D-Day commemorations in Normandy, France.

This was their first meeting since Mr Poroshenko's election in May.

Separately US President Barack Obama spoke to Mr Putin of the need to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine.

Fighting continues, with pro-Russian rebels reportedly shooting down a government aircraft near the rebel stronghold of Sloviansk on Friday.

An Ukrainian army spokesman told local media the plane was carrying aid supplies, but this cannot be independently verified.

Earlier government forces reportedly launched a tank attack near the town.

Separately, Ukraine's interior ministry reported that one member of the security forces had been killed and several wounded in a mortar attack outside the city.

'Tense tone'

Mr Putin and Mr Poroshenko, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, spoke for about 15 minutes, after a photograph of world leaders was taken and before a lunch hosted by French President Francois Hollande.

"Naturally, the overall tone of the meeting was very tense. However, the positive aspect of the meeting is that dialogue has at last started. I can say now that negotiations are starting," Mr Poroshenko told reporters.


By James Robbins, BBC diplomatic correspondent

Seventy years on, the landing grounds of Normandy may still have the capacity to change history. Today, France and Germany took the lead bringing together Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President-elect Petro Poroshenko for the first time.

Chancellor Merkel shepherded the two leaders. They shook hands and talked for about a quarter-of-an-hour just before the lunch for world leaders. French officials said a potential ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists was discussed.

Agreeing the terms could still be very hard, but the fact that President Putin has all but accepted the legitimacy of Ukraine's new president by meeting him is seen by other leaders as highly significant.

The G7 threat of far harsher economic sanctions against Russia if it doesn't go further still stands. But D-Day 2014 has certainly launched a dialogue about ending present-day efforts to redraw the map of Europe.

He added that he expected a statement from Russia on the recognition of the presidential election "in the near future" and that the initial phase of negotiations would take place on 8 June.

He said he had asked for the cancellation of the Russian parliament's authorisation of the deployment of troops in Ukraine.

Mr Putin said he liked Mr Poroshenko's approach but would wait to see what he could deliver.

"I can only welcome Mr Poroshenko's position that the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine must be stopped immediately," he said, adding that this had to mean an end to the Ukrainian government's "punitive operation".

"If it continues like that then conditions will be created for developing our relations in other areas as well."

The Russian president added that the two countries were close to a deal on Russian gas supplies, after energy giant Gazprom doubled its prices and demanded payment in advance.

President Hollande, who hosted the D-Day events, said the meeting had created conditions for de-escalation, and if this was later achieved 6 June 2014 would be remembered as an important date.

Mr Putin and Mr Obama also met during the day, and had an "informal meeting" lasting about 10-15 minutes, according to the White House.

Mr Obama said de-escalation in Ukraine depended on Moscow recognising Mr Poroshenko as Ukrainian leader, ending support for separatists and stopping the supply of arms and materiel across the border, according to US officials.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mrs Merkel said Russia bore "great responsibility" for making peace in Ukraine.
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The leaders posed for a photo before a meal organised by Mr Hollande
Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Obama and Mr Putin later attended a commemoration of the D-Day landings
Image copyright AP
Image caption Meanwhile fighting continues near the eastern Ukrainian town of Sloviansk

Failure to do so could lead to deeper international isolation for Russia, Mr Obama was quoted as saying.

Targeted sanctions were introduced by the EU and US after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in March, following a controversial referendum on joining Russia.

Since then, a bloody insurgency has gripped Ukraine's eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, on the Russian border.

Pro-Russian separatists there have declared independence from Ukraine, refusing to recognise the pro-EU government which replaced President Viktor Yanukovych after he was ousted in February.

Mr Putin denies military involvement despite the fact that Russians are fighting with the rebels.