- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2014

President Obama and Russian leader Vladimir Putin had a brief face-to-face conversation in France on Friday, on the sidelines of a luncheon of international leaders, the White House said.

The meeting was billed as an “informal conversation — not a formal bilateral meeting,” according to White House officials. Mr. Obama said a thaw of U.S.-Russian relations could be on the horizon if Moscow changes course and ends its meddling in the affairs of Ukraine.

The conversation largely centered on the recent election of Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko, and the need for Russia to stop supporting activists who continue to foment violence and unrest in eastern parts of the country, according to the White House.

Mr. Obama also warned Mr. Putin of more economic sanctions and further isolation from the international community, should Russia not heed U.S. warnings.

“President Obama made clear that de-escalation depends upon Russia recognizing President-elect Poroshenko as the legitimate leader of Ukraine, ceasing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, and stopping the provision of arms and materiel across the border,” said Ben Rhodes, the White House’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.

The meeting lasted about 15 minutes, according to Mr. Rhodes.

“President Obama noted President-elect Poroshenko’s commitment to pursue reforms to ensure that the rights and interests of all Ukrainians are respected, and urged Russia to work immediately with the government in Kiev to reduce tensions,” he continued. “President Obama made clear that a failure to take these steps would only deepen Russia’s isolation. If Russia does take this opportunity to recognize and work with the new government in Kiev, President Obama indicated that there could be openings to reduce tensions.”

The meeting is the first in-person encounter since Russia annexed part of Ukraine this spring, and comes at a time of particularly frosty relations between the U.S. and Russia.

Mr. Obama is traveling in Europe and earlier this week he met in Warsaw with Mr. Poroshenko.

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