By Justin Sink - 06/06/14 08:28 AM EDT
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke briefly Friday with Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko, a gesture that could portend a diplomatic breakthrough in the Ukrainian crisis.
President Obama and other Western leaders have called on Putin to open a dialogue with Poroshenko, a pro-European chocolate billionaire who won the first national election after Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-backed former president, fled amid mass protests.
At a press conference on Friday, Obama urged Putin to “seize this moment” and “recognize Poroshenko is the legitimate leader of Ukraine.” He also said Moscow should cease the support of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions who have seized government buildings and engaged in bloody conflict with nationalist forces.
“If Mr. Putin takes those steps, then it is possible for us to begin to rebuild trust between Russia and its neighbors and Europe,” Obama said. “Should he fail to do so, though, there are going to be additional consequences.”
Obama said that in his meeting with Poroshenko earlier this week it was “clear that he recognizes that Ukraine needs to have a good relationship with Russia.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is thought to be among Putin’s favorite Western leaders, was also involved in the brief chat, which occurred out of earshot of reporters as leaders prepared to take a group portrait.
Putin and Obama did not interact during the brief photo session, although aides have not ruled out some informal encounter during a leaders' lunch.