BRUSSELS — Diplomatic efforts to resolve the months-long standoff between Ukraine and Russia might end up with a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's president-elect, France's president said Thursday.
Francois Hollande, who will host D-Day commemorations in Normandy on Friday, said Putin and Ukraine's president-elect, Petro Poroshenko, will be in close proximity to one another.
"Could President Putin meet with President Poroshenko? Yes," Hollande said at the end of a Brussels summit of the Group of Seven major economies.
"President Putin has been told. And he is coming, knowing he will be alongside, anyway not far from, the Ukraine president," Hollande said hours before he hosts dueling dinners Thursday night, first with President Barack Obama, then with Putin.
Despite fundamental differences over the March annexation of Crimea and unrest in eastern Ukraine since, Russia has signaled its readiness for a direct dialogue with Poroshenko, a billionaire candy tycoon, who was elected May 25.
After the G-7 group kept the threat of further sanctions against Russia on the table, Thursday's action was moving from Brussels to Paris where at least two tete-a-tete meetings were planned between Putin and European leaders, including the dinner with Hollande.
If President Barack Obama didn't envisage such an encounter, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the eve of D-Day commemorations in Normandy.
"We are at a point where Mr. Putin has the chance to get back into a lane of international law," Obama said.
European leaders are hoping the famous beaches, which saw the turning point in World War II, may now serve as a diplomatic platform to end the Ukraine-Russia crisis.
"It is an exceptional international meeting that must serve the cause of peace," Hollande said.
When asked if there even might be a Putin-Obama meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "we will see over the day what meetings and formats there will be tomorrow."
After meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron in Brussels, Obama was to then take a short flight to Paris for dinner with Hollande.
The U.S. and Europe started out showing solidarity against Putin. But differing approaches are now emerging, and European leaders are planning separate, private meetings with Putin in Paris while Obama is steering clear of him.
Merkel insisted though, that if appearances differ, the intent among the leaders is identical when facing Putin.
"There is absolute agreement. Every one of us is an individual and has his way of presenting things but on the substance there are no differences," Merkel said before her meeting with Putin.
Obama said that tougher sanctions would be coming if Putin "continues a strategy of undermining Ukraine." If there is no change in the coming weeks, "we have no choice but to respond," he said.
He insisted Putin would see one front facing him. "Maybe he's been surprised by our degree of unity."
Interest to draw Putin closer to the international fold was worldwide.
"We would like Russia to be engaged constructively in various international issues as a responsible nation. The world is desirous of that," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after the G-7 summit. "To that end as well, I shall continue my dialogue with President Putin."
The May 25 Ukraine election, which came three months after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was chased from office by crowds following months of street protests and allegations of corruption, was seen as a critical step toward resolving Ukraine's protracted crisis.
Since his ouster, Russia has annexed the Crimea Peninsula in southern Ukraine, the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk have declared their independence from Kiev, and the interim Ukrainian government has launched an offensive in the east to quash an uprising that has left dozens dead.
Juergen Baetz, John-Thor Dahlburg and Julie Pace contributed to this story. Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert