YALTA, Crimea - Finland's president is to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in southern Russia on Friday, the two governments said, but a Kremlin source played down the prospects for any breakthrough in the crisis over Ukraine.
With tensions running high between Russia and the European Union, Putin has not hosted any bilateral meeting with an EU leader on Russian soil since the Sochi Winter Olympics in February. Finland is a major exporter to Russia, and is one of the EU states hardest hit by trade embargos Moscow has imposed in retaliation for EU sanctions.
The office of the Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, said the meeting would focus on the Ukraine crisis. It will take place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Putin has a residence. A Kremlin source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the agenda would focus on bilateral issues, primarily trade.
The source said the Finnish president was not coming as an intermediary between Russia and the West over Ukraine, and cautioned against expecting the talks would produce any kind of breakthrough in that conflict.
The Finnish side had requested the meeting last week, soon after Russia imposed restrictions on the import of food products from many Western states, the source said. Russia is Finland's third-biggest export market. Finnish companies are major suppliers of milk and other dairy products to Russian supermarkets.
The EU has imposed sanctions on individual Russians and the energy, finance and defence sectors to punish Moscow for its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and what Western governments say is its backing for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia denies arming the rebels or orchestrating the conflict.