Ukrainian leader invited to France's D-Day ceremonies alongside Russia's Putin

PARIS (AFP) - The new president of Ukraine has been invited to join Russia's Vladimir Putin at the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day next week in France, French officials announced on Wednesday.

In a move that will fuel hopes of a potential face-to-face encounter and a possible easing of tensions between the two countries, the officials said President Francois Hollande has invited Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko to the June 6 ceremonies in Normandy.

US President Barack Obama, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are also due to attend, along with Mr Putin and a number of other leaders of countries who were involved in World War II.

The announcement of the invitation to Mr Poroshenko came after Kremlin aides confirmed that Mr Putin would have dinner with Hollande on the eve of the ceremonies, in what will be his first face-to-face encounter with a Western leader since Russia's annexation of Crimea in March.

"The sides will discuss various multilateral international questions including the Ukraine crisis," said presidential aide Yury Ushakov.

Mr Putin may also hold informal meetings with other Western leaders on June 6, Ushakov added in what appeared to be a reference to Mr Obama's reluctance to be seen to be normalising ties with Mr Putin following the stand-off created by Russia's action in Crimea and its backing of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

"I personally think that if there are bilateral contacts, they will not be organised but will be on the hoof, as they say," Ushakov said.

The White House said earlier this month that Mr Obama had no plans to meet one-on-one with Mr Putin in France.

French officials confirmed Wednesday that Mr Obama would have a bilateral meeting on June 5 with Mr Hollande.

The D-Day ceremonies will be preceded by a meeting in Brussels of the leaders of the G7 major industrialised powers - of which Russia is not a member.

The G8 grouping, which had included Moscow, was suspended after the annexation of Crimea.