By Justin Sink - 06/06/14 09:54 AM EDT
President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke briefly Friday after both leaders appeared to consciously be avoiding each other during the D-Day anniversary celebrations in France.
The highly anticipated face-to-face conversation was the first time the two spoke in person since Russia’s incursion into Ukraine earlier this year, which brought U.S condemnation.
Earlier Putin and Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko were spotted speaking to one another, although the discussion occurred out of earshot of reporters.
“It was an informal conversation — not a formal bilateral meeting,” Rhodes said, downplaying the brief interaction.
The Kremlin said Putin discussed ways to end the violence in Ukraine in his conversations with both Obama and Poroshenko.
"Putin and Obama spoke for the need to end violence and fighting as quickly as possible,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told USA Today.
With Poroshenko, Putin discussed the contours of a ceasefire agreement and other steps that could deescalate the crisis, French officials told the Telegraph.
"They were able to begin a dialogue on possible de-escalation measures including Moscow recognizing Poroshenko's election,” an aide to French president Francois Hollande told the paper, adding that Putin would plan to dispatch an ambassador to Kiev.
“The practicalities of a ceasefire will also be discussed in the coming days."
Whether Obama and Putin would speak was the source of speculation throughout the president’s weeklong trip to Europe. On Thursday night, French President Francois Hollande scheduled two separate dinners with each leader avoiding an uncomfortable overlap.
Earlier Thursday, it appeared as if Putin and Obama were intentionally avoiding one another during a photo session with all dignitaries attending the event.
While Obama jovially greeted other leaders — planting a kiss on both cheeks of German Chancellor Angela Merkel — he and Putin kept their distance.
At one point when the leaders were walking from the photo session toward the building where they would dine, Obama was right behind Putin, but appeared to go out of his way not to acknowledge his presence.
White House aides, though, had signaled throughout the week that some sort of encounter was eventually likely. On Thursday, Obama said that if they talked, he would urge Putin to “seize the moment” and deescalate tensions with Ukraine.
Obama said he would tell Putin he should recognize the election of Poroshenko and stop supporting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions who have seized government buildings and engaged in combat against government 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.”
The U.S. and Europe have imposed financial sanctions and travel bans against dozens of Putin’s top political and financial associates in a bid to pressure the Kremlin to withdraw from Ukraine.