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19.08.2019 Europe

Macron hosts Putin for talks in southern France

Gerard Julien/Pool via REUTERS
LISTEN AUG 19, 2019

French President Emmanuel Macron has held talks with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at his summer residence in southern France, seeking to press the Kremlin to help end the conflict in Ukraine.

Macron has been hosting Putin at his summer retreat of the Bregancon fortress on the Mediterranean coast, just days before he hosts world leaders including US President Donald Trump for the 24-26 August Group of Seven (G7) summit in Biarritz.

Macron told journalists there was a "real opportunity" for peace in Ukraine following the election of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"There is a real opportunity to put an end to the conflict that has been going on for five years," Macron said at the start of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin who voiced "cautious optimism" about Zelensky.

Macron said he hoped to attend a four-way summit with the leaders of Ukraine, Russia and Germany -- the so-called Normandy format -- "in the next few weeks" to try to end the fighting which began in 2014.

The European Union has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia after it seized Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, an annexation the international community deemed illegal.

It sparked a war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed separatists which has so far claimed the lives of more than 13,000 people.

"Relations between Russia and the European Union have an irritant, a subject of disagreement, which is Ukraine, which is a problem we have to resolve," Macron told the Russian leader.

"We need to keep up our pressure, our energy to resolve this problem," he added.

Face-to-face talks
Putin said: "I will talk (with Macron) about my discussions with the new Ukraine president. There are things that are worth talking about and that give grounds for cautious optimism."

Zelensky has offered to meet Putin for face-to-face talks and was known to have spoken to him by phone in recent weeks.

"President Zelensky has made offers to which -- it seems to us -- President Putin should respond in an encouraging way," a French official said ahead of the meeting between the leaders on condition of anonymity.