Emmanuel Macron, Vladimir Putin hold talks at Bregancon fort in southern France

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron in St. Petersburg

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron in St. Petersburg

French President Emmanuel Macron said that his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin today he meant to discuss preparations for a Normandy-format summit on the Donbas conflict.

At the start of the meeting, Macron said he hoped his talks with Putin will lead to a four-way summit on the crisis in Ukraine over the coming weeks, instating that there was a "real opportunity" for peace.

"I'm glad that they express themselves freely in elections because it reduces confrontation".

The two leaders were less in agreement over Syria, with Putin defending Moscow-backed Syrian military action against what he called "terrorists" in Idlib province, while Macron spoke of children being killed by bombs. "It's vital that the ceasefire agreed in Sochi is put into practice", he said.

The Idlib region, home to some 3 million people, has experienced airstrikes and shelling by the government and Russian troops since April, with hundreds of people killed, many civilians.

The Idlib region, which is home to some three million people, was supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal signed between Russian Federation and Turkey in September past year. Since late April, the regime and Russian forces have upped their deadly bombardment there.

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"President Zelenskiy has made offers to which - it seems to us - President Putin should respond in an encouraging way", AFP news agency quoted a French official as saying on condition of anonymity.

Macron also urged Putin to respect the ceasefire in Syria's Idlib, following air strikes in the region and an attack on a Turkish army convoy on Monday.

"Because I believe in a European Russia".

Putin also bristled at Macron's urging him to respect democratic principles in Russian Federation after weeks of anti-government protests in Moscow.

The protests in Moscow were triggered by authorities barring opposition candidates from running in an election for the city's legislature in September.

Putin told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that he saw no alternative to the "Normandy" format for heads of state talks on the Ukraine crisis, but stopped short on Monday of signing up to a new summit on the subject.

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