PARIS: 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 U.S. and its allies since the March seizure of the peninsula, met Cameron in Paris Thursday.
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 G-7 leaders who issued a warning that Russia faced further sanctions if it did 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.”
U.S. President Barack Obama, who had a rushed dinner with Francois Hollande in Paris before the French leader met for a late-night “supper” with Putin, called on Russia to take concrete steps to show 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.”Putin will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel Friday before the D-Day ceremony. No formal meeting is scheduled with 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 I’ll see Mr. Putin,” he 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 G-7 nations are ready to impose additional costs.”
“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.
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. AFP 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.