Western Leaders, Putin in Paris as Talks over Ukraine Kick Off

British Prime Minister David Cameron told Vladimir Putin to end Moscow's military meddling in Ukraine as he became the first western leader to meet the Russian president since Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

Putin, who has been cold-shouldered by the United States and its allies since the March seizure of the peninsula, met Cameron in Paris on Thursday ahead of talks later with French President Francois Hollande.

The Russian leader's return to the international center stage, ahead of Friday's D-Day anniversary ceremony in Normandy, came on a day when Ukraine's government admitted it had lost control of part of its eastern border to pro-Russian separatists that the West suspects are being actively backed by Moscow.

Cameron arrived for his meeting with Putin directly from a Brussels meeting of G7 leaders which issued a warning that Russia faced further sanctions if it does not stop what they see as efforts to destabilize its southern neighbor.

"This was a meeting with a very clear and firm set of messages, which is that there is an opportunity for a successful, peaceful and stable Ukraine especially now there's been a presidential election," Cameron told the BBC.

"But the status quo, the situation today, is not acceptable and it needs to change."

"Russia needs to properly recognize and work with this new president. We need de-escalation. We need to stop arms and people crossing the border. We need action on these fronts but if that happens there is a diplomatic path that is open to have proper relations between Ukraine and Russia and a successful future for the people of Ukraine, which is what they deserve."

Putin will also meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday before the D-Day ceremony. No formal meeting is scheduled with Barack Obama but the U.S. president signaled in Brussels that he was likely to have some kind of exchange with his Russian counterpart. 

"I have no doubt that I'll see Mr. Putin," Obama said. "Should we have the opportunity to talk, I'll deliver the same message as I have throughout this crisis.

"If Russia's provocations continue, it's clear from our discussions here the G7 nations are ready to impose additional costs."

The G7 leaders said they were united behind a common position on the crisis but there have been clear differences of emphasis all week over the balance between pursuing dialogue with Putin and signaling to him, and the Russian people, that they are isolated.

There is concern among some western officials that Putin's trip to France could be seen by his domestic audience as him returning to the international top table.

Obama, who had a rushed dinner with Hollande in a Paris restaurant before the French leader's late-night “supper” with Putin, called on Russia to take concrete steps to demonstrate it was willing to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The U.S. leader said Russia had to recognize Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko, withdraw troops from the Ukrainian border and stop backing pro-Moscow rebels who are destabilizing eastern Ukraine.

"We will have a chance to see what Mr. Putin does over the next two, three, four weeks. If he remains on the current course we've already indicated the actions we are prepared to take."

The diplomatic shuttling in France came as the Ukrainian authorities admitted they had been forced to abandon three checkpoints on the border with Russia after nightly assaults by pro-Russian separatists.

Agence France Presse reporters in the area said at least one had been taken over by the rebels.

In a signal the situation in the country's east may be about to deteriorate sharply, the government vowed to beef up its security presence to counter the rebels amid reports of continued fighting.

Putin signaled earlier this week that he could meet Poroshenko, the chocolate tycoon who is due to be inaugurated as president on Saturday, who will also be in Normandy, and insisted he was ready for talks with Obama.

"I don't plan to avoid anyone," Putin said in an interview in which he rejected claims of military intervention in Ukraine and accused the United States of aggressively pursuing the isolation of Russia.

Obama this week condemned Russia's "dark tactics" in Ukraine in a hawkish speech in Poland reminiscent of the Cold War era.

Source: Agence France Presse

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