While attending commemorations of the D-Day landings in France, Mr Putin held what aides described as a brief but significant meeting with Petro Poroshenko, the victor of last month’s Ukrainian presidential elections.
The encounter, which took place on the sidelines of ceremonies to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Normandy D-Day landings, was the first time the two men had met since Moscow annexed Crimea, where Mr Poroshenko was chased by an angry pro-Russian mob in February.
“In a brief conversation, both Putin and Poroshenko called for a speedy end to the bloodshed in southeastern Ukraine as well as to fighting on both sides – by the Ukrainian armed forces as well as by supporters of the federalisation of Ukraine,” said Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, in comments cited by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.
“They also confirmed that there was no alternative to resolving the situation with peaceful political methods.”
It followed a warning on Thursday from Barack Obama, the US president, that if Russia failed to recognise Mr Poroshenko as Ukraine’s new leader, it could face further sanctions on top of those already placed on the Kremlin for annexing Crimea.
“If he does not, if he continues a strategy of undermining the sovereignty of Ukraine, then we have no choice but to respond” Mr Obama said.
Friday’s exchange came during a lunch hosted by French President Francois Hollande in Benouville, attended by leaders from around the world.
Mr Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, added: “Putin and Obama spoke for the need to end violence and fighting as quickly as possible.” There was no discussion of rolling back Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which the West says was illegal.
In remarks that seemed calculated to add to the mood of reconciliation, both David Cameron and Mr Hollande used the D-Day occasion to stress the role played by Russia in liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny.
Mr Cameron said: “Yes, of course we have our disagreements today with Russia, but we should never forget that Russia – the Soviet Union – was an ally of Britain and America, the Free French, Canadian and Australian forces, that liberated this continent from the tyranny of Nazism.”
Mr Hollande, meanwhile, paid tribute to the “courage of the Red Army” and the “decisive contribution” of the former Soviet Union in winning World War II.
Mr Cameron became the first Western leader to hold face-to-face talks with Mr Putin since the Ukraine crisis began when they met in Paris on Thursday night.
Outside the building where world leaders met for lunch, reporters saw an animated conversation lasting about one minute which also included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who at a much more public commemoration at Sword Beach appeared to be shuttling back and forth between Mr Putin and Mr Poroshenko.
The meeting came, however, as violence continued unabated in eastern Ukraine, where more than 180 people have died in clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Kiev loyalists in the last two months. Unconfirmed reports from Russian media on Friday spoke of Ukrainian government tanks being deployed in eastern city of Slavyansk, the centre of much of the recent trouble.
Pro-Russian separatists operating from the grounds of a church in Slavyansk also killed a member of the Ukrainian interior ministry’s special forces and seriously wounded two others in a mortar attack on Friday, Ukrainian officials said.