Putin to join D-Day ceremonies despite Ukraine tensions

Putin to join D-Day ceremonies despite Ukraine tensions

Paris (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend ceremonies in France next month marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day despite the Ukraine crisis, the ambassador to Paris said Thursday.

"President Putin has been invited by President (Francois) Hollande to take part in the ceremonies to commemorate the Normandy landings on June 6. He has accepted the invitation. He will be coming on June 6," Alexander Orlov told BFM television.

Hollande had said earlier that Putin was welcome in Normandy despite the standoff between Moscow and the West over Ukraine, and the Russian leader's decision was also welcomed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"We may have differences with Vladimir Putin but I have not forgotten and will never forget that the Russian people gave millions of lives" during World War II, Hollande told France 2 television.

"I told Vladimir Putin that as the representative of the Russian people, he is welcome to the ceremonies."

Western leaders including US President Barack Obama and Britain's Queen Elizabeth are also due to attend the events on June 6 to commemorate the Normandy landings that marked the beginning of the liberation of continental Europe from the Nazis in World War II.

Merkel said she was pleased Putin would be taking part in the gathering.

She said at a forum on Europe in Germany that she had wanted a way to be found to make it possible to commemorate a "difficult" time in World War II "despite the different opinions which we now have and also the big conflicts".

"Therefore I find it good news."

Merkel also stressed the need to press on with dialogue to defuse the crisis in Ukraine, underlining the importance of a planned presidential election being organised by Kiev's interim leaders on May 25.

"I think it's right, on the one hand, to continue to hold talks (and) to make clear, secondly, that we support Ukraine... and to consistently consider sanctions," Merkel said.

The West has taken some steps to punish Moscow a over its stance on Ukraine, a former Soviet republic where pro-Russian rebels are fighting in the restive east.

The West has imposed a number of sanctions and in March, Western powers cancelled a G8 summit with Russia planned for June and replaced it with a G7 meeting to be held in Brussels.