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France Plays Ukraine Peacemaker as Obama-Putin Attend D-Day (1)

June 6 (Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks in Normandy with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as France attempted to use the backdrop of D-Day commemorations to ease the international standoff over Ukraine.

The meeting in the Atlantic resort of Deauville took place as French President Francois Hollande hosted U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders along the coast for the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings that paved the way for the liberation of western Europe and the end of World War II. All the delegations then met for a joint lunch.

“You will see later, history is in the making,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on France Info radio this morning when asked whether Obama and Putin will shake hands and contribute to a thaw. “A window here is opened for peace.”

The D-Day events assume added significance this year with the attendance of Putin and policy makers attempting to broker an end to the Ukraine crisis. Hollande has stressed that leaders from all sides of conflicts, past and present, are welcome at today’s ceremonies to put aside their differences and pay their respects to those who helped defeat Nazi Germany and end the war.

“It’s our role,” Fabius said. “We are a peace power.”

Ukraine’s President

Hollande is hosting 19 heads of state and government including Queen Elizabeth II, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko, who’ll be sworn in tomorrow in Kiev, was a last-minute invitee.

Putin, Poroshenko and Merkel were seen talking informally at the lunchtime venue. Obama and Putin made no contact.

During their hourlong meeting in Deauville earlier, Putin and Merkel “completely focused” on Ukraine, seeking ways to resolve the crisis, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Merkel told Putin that it’s time to stabilize eastern Ukraine, said Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s chief spokesman.

“Russia must act in accordance with its great responsibility,” she said. After Ukraine’s “internationally recognized” presidential election, “the time must be used to achieve a stabilization of the situation, particularly in eastern Ukraine,” Merkel told the Russian president, Seibert said in a text message.

Hollande began the day’s events with a call for recognition of all sacrifices made during the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, telling a crowd at the Caen Memorial in northern France that the civilian victims of the war had long been obscured behind the heroism of the soldiers who fought.

‘Pay Homage’

“On this day I want the nation to pay homage to all, civilian and military, with no distinction to the clothes and uniform worn,” Hollande said. “Normandy opened its doors to its liberators, facilitated the victory, and paid a heavy price.”

D-Day is being marked less than 24 hours after G-7 nations met in Brussels without Russia and threatened further sanctions if Putin doesn’t pull back more troops from the Ukrainian border. Russia was excluded from the forum, which it had been due to host this year, after it annexed the Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March.

Russia Sanctions

While backing the threat of renewed sanctions, Hollande insisted on maintaining Putin’s invitation to Normandy, citing the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany. Leaders marked separate events before lunch. A joint ceremony is being held at Ouistreham, part of Sword Beach taken by British 3rd Infantry Division and a Free French commando unit.

“Russia’s attendance is a momentous event,” Putin said in an interview with French television aired June 4. “Russia and the anti-Hitler coalition countries, including France, were allies in that struggle for freedom, and my country played a vital and maybe even the decisive role in defeating Nazism.”

Some 5.8 million of the 8.7 million Soviet soldiers killed in action in World War II were Russian, according to estimates by Russian military expert Grigoriy Krivosheyev that aren’t universally accepted by historians. The U.S. lost 400,000 soldiers in the conflict, Britain 384,000, and France 250,000.

The day began with the ceremony in Caen for French civilian deaths, a subject left aside in previous D-Day commemorations. The landings and the subsequent six-week Battle of Normandy resulted in about 14,000 civilian deaths, according to the University of Caen. Most died in bombardments, though several hundred were shot by the retreating German army. The day of the landings, 75 members of the resistance were executed in the courtyard of Caen prison.

Throughout today there will be separate commemorations for British, Canadian and Polish forces. The Americans held a ceremony at Omaha Beach, the bloodiest of the landing beaches.

The Allied victory “shaped the security and well-being of all posterity” and spurred 70 years of democratic movements around the world, Obama told an audience including veterans of the landings at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach. “We worked to turn old adversaries into new allies. We built new prosperity. We stood once more with the people of this continent through a long twilight struggle until finally, a wall tumbled down, and an Iron Curtain, too.”

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