In what could be an awkward situation, both U.S. President Barack Obama and Russia President Vladimir Putin will be in Normandy, France on Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a major turning point for the allied forces during World War II. The two leaders have not come face-to-face since Russia annexed Ukraine’s peninsular region, Crimea, and began amassing troops at the eastern border.
Initially, the White House said Obama will not meet one-on-one with Putin. But on Thursday, Obama left the possibility open.
“I have no doubt that I’ll see Mr. Putin. He and I have always had a business like relationship” said the commander-in-chief. “Obama added that he has a game plan in the event the two do chat. “I will be repeating the same message to him that I have throughout this crisis” that while Russia has a legitimate interest in what happens in Ukraine, “ultimately it’s up to the people of Ukraine to make their own decisions.”
For the first time in 17 years, Putin is being kept out of an annual summit of world leaders – though he has still managed to dominate the talks.
Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday announced that the G7 group of major economies was threatening further sanctions against Moscow if Putin does not take specific steps to ameliorate the rebellion in Ukraine. That includes recognizing Petro Poroshenko as the legitimately new leader of Ukraine, stopping the flow of arms and militants across the border and ending support for pro-Russian separatist groups in the country.
Putin, said Obama in Brussels, “has a chance to get back into a lane of international law.”
Back in March, the group of leading world economies – the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan – suspended their collaboration with Russia after the country annexed the Crimean region in Ukraine. The summit was originally scheduled to take place in Sochi, Russia, but was canceled following the Kremlin’s military incursion.
French officials have apparently taken action to ensure Obama doesn’t have to meet with his Russian counterpart. French President Francois Hollande has planned two separate dinners on Thursday evening – one with Obama at a restaurant and another one at his residence with Putin.
Putin criticized Obama for not meeting with him in a formal setting while they’re both in Normandy.
“It is his choice,” he said in an interview with French media. “I am ready for dialogue.”