Paris (AFP) - French President Emmanuel Macron will attempt to convince Russia to accept Ukraine's overtures of dialogue when he meets Vladimir Putin for talks on Monday ahead of a G7 summit.
Macron, who hosted his Russian counterpart in grand style at the palace of Versailles in 2017, will this time meet Putin at his official holiday residence in Bregancon in southern France.
The visit comes days before world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, gather for the August 24-26 Group of Seven (G7) summit in Biarritz.
Russia was slung out of what was the G8 in 2014 after it seized Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, an annexation the international community deemed illegal. Shortly after, a war broke out in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed separatists. An estimated 13,000 people have been killed so far.
Macron has taken a keen interest in brokering an end to the conflict and believes that the arrival in power of new Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky could give a new impulse to halting the fighting.
Zelensky has offered to meet Putin for face-to-face talks and spoken to him by phone in recent weeks.
"President Zelensky has made offers to which -- it seems to us -- President Putin should respond in an encouraging way," said a French official, who asked not to be named.
"The election of President Zelensky gives us some room to manoeuvre," the official added.
- French banker released -
Brokering peace in eastern Ukraine would be a major feather in the cap for Macron, who since coming to office in 2017 has sought to magnify France's international role.
Kremlin advisor Yuri Ushakov said that the dialogue between France and Russia had "intensified" in the recent months and that Putin's visit was the "logical continuation" of his regular contact with Macron
Alexander Baunov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Macron would be looking for ways to resuscitate the 2015 Minsk ceasefire deal which Paris and Berlin helped broker.
"The main public issue will be reviving the Minsk accords," Baunov told AFP.
Iran will also feature high on the agenda, with Paris keen for Moscow to use its close ties with Tehran to prevent a further escalation of conflicts in the Middle East.
Tensions have shot up since Washington's unilateral pullout from a 2015 deal to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA).
Ushakov confirmed that Macron and Putin would discuss Iran's nuclear programme, as well as the conflict in Syria, EU-Russia cooperation and Franco-Russian relations.
Macron is expected to press Putin to use his influence on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop an offensive in the northern region of Idlib and ward off new refugee flows towards Turkey.
On Russia's domestic front, France has repeatedly rebuked Moscow over its crackdown on protesters angered by a refusal to register opposition candidates for elections later this year.
In an apparent gesture of goodwill, a French banker who had spent the last six months behind bars in Russia on fraud charges, was released into house arrest on Thursday.
Explaining his surprise release, Ushakov said: "The French president had spoken about it (the case) several times with the Russian president."