PARIS — Friday’s D-Day anniversary ceremony in Normandy, northern France, will be more than a commemoration to peace and fraternity.
Hosted amid tensions between Russia and the West over the crisis in Ukraine, the event will serve as an occasion for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Western leaders to hold face-to-face talks for the first time in the past many months.
Although U.S. President Barack Obama does not have a scheduled formal meeting with Putin, he will attend a leaders lunch Friday where Putin is also expected to be present.
“I have no doubt that I’ll see Mr. Putin,” Obama said in Brussels.
But at a scheduled dinner with French President Francois Hollande Thursday night ahead of the commemoration, Obama dined “alone” with Hollande instead of with both Hollande and Putin as was widely speculated. Hollande dined twice, first with Obama and then with the Russian leader two hours later.
On Wednesday, the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations hosted their summit without Russia, a protest over Crimea’s accession to Russia.
It was the group’s first summit in two decades without the participation of Russia.
The Russian leader on Wednesday dismissed U.S. allegations of Russian military interference in Ukraine, delivering a scathing attack on U.S. attempts to isolate his country over the crisis.
“There are no armed forces, no ‘Russian instructors’ in Ukraine — and there never were any.”
However, he still expressed an apparent willingness to talk to his U.S. counterpart Obama in France.
“It is his decision. I’m always ready for dialogue,” he said, adding that he hopes the current situation does not develop into a new stage of the Cold War.