Both symbolism and pragmatism were on French President Francois Hollande’s agenda. With an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had been elbowed out of G-7 talks a day earlier, the ceremonies also became a moment to try to deflate the tense situation in Ukraine. The West fears the ongoing fighting there could fan a new Cold War with Moscow, which has annexed the eastern Ukraine region of Crimea.
Hollande’s invitation to Ukraine’s president-elect gave impetus to a diplomatic ballet of meetings behind the scenes.
Putin, who was present as a tribute to the Russian loss of more than 20 million troops in WWII — the largest among Allies — met with Petro Poroshenko and Obama on the sidelines of the event. Obama met privately, and briefly, with Putin.
“It is because France itself experienced the barbarity (of war) that it feels a duty to preserve peace everywhere, at the frontiers of Europe as in Africa,” Hollande said.
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