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Thursday May 29, 2014 MYT 1:26:32 AM
Thursday May 29, 2014 MYT 1:26:46 AM
MOSCOW/PARIS (Reuters) - Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko will attend the 70th anniversary of the World War Two "D-Day" landings in Normandy, his office said on Wednesday, potentially creating an opportunity for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Relations between Russia and Ukraine, neighbours that share close historical ties, are in tatters after protesters pushed a Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president from power in February and Russia annexed Crimea.
Russia has deployed tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border and warned it could send them in to protect Russian-speakers in the east, while Poroshenko and Ukraine's pro-Western government have ignored Moscow's demands for an end to the operation against pro-Russian separatists.
Should the two men come face-to-face it would be the first time Russia's president meets a pro-Western Ukrainian politician since Moscow's annexation of the Crimea in March.
"Mr Poroshenko's election paves the way for a peaceful and political exit to the crisis," French President Francois Hollande's office said in a statement announcing Poroshenko's invitation.
Putin and Poroshenko are among several leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish President Bronisław Komorowski - all key players in the Ukraine crisis - who are due to meet for lunch on June 6 to mark D-day.
French officials could not confirm whether Putin and Poroshenko would meet, but said the two would attend the lunch.
Putin is due to hold talks with French President Hollande on the eve of the D-Day events in Paris to discuss "fundamental international and bilateral issues, including the Ukraine crisis," Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said. The meeting would be the first with a Western leader since Crimea's annexation.
The Kremlin said earlier on Wednesday the Russian leader might have contact with other leaders while in France, but that any other meetings would be informal.
Hollande is also due to meet Obama and dine with other leaders on the same day, although Hollande's office declined to say whether Putin would be part of that dinner.
Although Putin has frequently spoken to foreign heads of state and government by telephone since the start of the Ukraine crisis, his last known meeting with a Western leader was during the February Winter Olympics in Sochi.
His last foreign trip to meet Western leaders was a visit to Brussels for talks with European Union leaders in January.
The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russian officials, lawmakers and companies close to Putin to punish him for annexing Crimea. Western leaders scrapped preparations for a G8 summit that Putin had planned to host in Sochi in June.
While France has said that Russia's actions in Ukraine could endanger a 1.2 billion euro ($1.63 billion) helicopter carrier deal signed in 2011 to boost Russia's military modernisation, it has more recently rejected U.S. pressure to cancel the deal saying it would do more damage to Paris than to Moscow.
(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk and Steve Gutterman in Moscow, John Irish and Elizabeth Pineau in Paris and Gareth Jones in Kiev.; Writing by Thomas Grove and John Irish. Editing by Jane Merriman)
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