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Hollande meets Putin in Moscow to ‘deescalate’ Ukraine crisis

media Warm welcome - Russian President Vladimir Putin meets France's François Hollande at Moscow Vnukovo airport Reuters/Alain Jocard

French President François Hollande became the first Western leader to visit Moscow since the start of the Ukraine crisis on Saturday. He held a surprise meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Russian capital’s airport.

Although it was only announced on Saturday, the stopover during Hollande’s return from a two-day visit to Kazakhstan had been prepared in secret for several weeks, RFI’s Moscow correspondent Anissa el-Jabri reports.

Earlier in the day Hollande spoke to Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The two leaders met for two hours in a bid to quell tensions over Ukraine after Hollande called for "deescalation" of the crisis while in Kazakhstan.

At a press conference with Putin, Hollande said he hoped to avoid a new Berlin Wall.

“We must avoid having other walls separate us,” he said. “It is necessary, at some moment, to overcome the obstacles and find solutions. I know that between Russia and France there is the desire.”

A new round of peace talks on the Ukrainian conflict are set to take place next week, as well as a day of silence, during which military operations will be suspended, on Tuesday 9 December.

“Today I wanted along with President Putin to send a message of de-escalation” Hollande said. “And today that is possible.”

Putin said the brief visit would help resolve the many problems at hand.

Hollande “chose the right moment to meet Vladimir Putin, a master of the Kremlin at the head of a country that has gone into recession, isolated on the international stage,” comments el-Jabri. “The rare smile of the Russian president on Saturday spoke volumes about his satisfaction at seeing a Western leader set foot on Russian soil at last.”

The visit is part of an ongoing process to put pressure on Putin, Amanda Paul, an analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, told RFI.

And the suspension of delivery of two Mistral warships built by France to Russia, which could lead to fines for France as well as the loss of the 1.2-billion-euro price, gives Hollande an extra incentive to resolve the crisis, she commented.

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