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Dec 6, 2014 11:21 AM

French leader meets with Putin in Moscow

The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) French President Francois Hollande met with Russia's Vladimir Putin during an impromptu visit to Moscow on Saturday, a rare display of goodwill as tensions remain high over the ongoing conflict in east Ukraine and France's decision to suspend the delivery of two warships to Moscow.

The French leader's unexpected stopover in Moscow, as he traveled from neighboring Kazakhstan back to Paris, makes him the only head of state from a major Western power to visit Russia since it annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in March.

Putin struck a moderate note on the conflict in east Ukraine, where fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Kiev's forces has claimed at least 4,300 lives since April. Western nations have accused Russia of providing the militants with personnel and arms, which Moscow denies.

The U.S. and European Union have imposed sanctions on some Russians and separatists as punishment for their actions.

"I very much hope that in the near future we will have a final cease-fire agreement" in east Ukraine, Putin said in televised remarks. Without a fully-implemented truce, he said, "it is difficult to picture Ukraine as a territorially integral country, and Russia, as is well-known, supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine."

Putin said that the two leaders had not discussed the delivery of the two warships, which was suspended by France after coming under intense pressure from its allies to suspend the sale because of tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

On Friday, France's defense minister said in a TV interview that the delivery of both ships may be cancelled, if the political situation doesn't change.

"We proceed from the assumption that (the deal) will be carried out," Putin said, but added that Russia would "act with understanding no matter how these events develop."

In televised remarks opening the meeting, Hollande said he hoped it would help "rid ourselves of the walls that divide us."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on his official Twitter account Saturday that he had spoken to Hollande by phone about how to resolve the conflict in east Ukraine.


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