France and Germany press Putin for more Ukraine de-escalation

President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met Saturday in Germany, called on President Vladimir Putin to do more to calm the situation in Ukraine and make the May 25 presidential elections there possible. "If that doesn't happen, it would contribute to a further destabilization of Ukraine," Merkel said, stressing that European leaders would then be ready to toughen sanctions against Russia. The French president said he hoped to avoid that escalation. "We have relations with Vladimir Putin; we are using them so that he can take into consideration what is at stake over these coming weeks in Ukraine," said Hollande.

Merkel described sovereignty referendums planned Sunday by pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukrainian regions as "illegal," while Hollande said they would “carry no weight."

France stands by a 3-year-old deal to provide two warships to Russia, the first set for delivery in October. On Saturday, Hollande said that the contract "is being carried out … for the moment it is not called into question."

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