Updated 9 pm, Aug. 19.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks in southern France where they made progress on boosting peace talks for Ukraine but disagreed on other issues, including Syria and Russia’s crackdown on opposition protesters.
Macron told a news conference ahead of the meeting at his summer home on the French Riviera Monday that there is now a "real opportunity" for peace in Ukraine after the election of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Putin told reporters that phone conversations with Zelensky, who has offered an olive branch to the Russian president, had given him cautious grounds for optimism.
France is seeking to play the role of mediator in Russia's conflict with Ukraine.
The two leaders also expressed hopes to improve Moscow's relations with the European Union and seek cooperation on arms control issues. However, they also disagreed on other matters.
During the press conference, Macron called for the respect of free speech and free elections in Russia, where authorities have been cracking down on anti-government protesters in Moscow.
Putin said Moscow does not want protests like the" yellow vest" ones that have taken place in France, but that peaceful demonstrations were welcome.
"We would not want such a thing to happen in the Russian capital," Putin said, referring to the French demonstrations against economic injustice and the presidency of Macron. He said those guilty of breaking Russia's protest laws should be held responsible.
"We all know about the events linked to the so-called yellow vests during which, according to our calculations, 11 people were killed and 2,500 injured," Putin said.
France has strongly criticized Russia's arrests of more than 2,000 demonstrators and the "clearly excessive use of force'' against protesters.
The two leaders also disagreed about the conflict in Syria. Macron expressed "profound worry" about the bombing of the Syrian town of Idlib, and said "it's vital that the ceasefire agreed in Sochi is put into practice."
However, Putin said that Moscow supports attacks by the Syrian army against "terrorists" in the northern province of Idlib.
"We never said that in Idlib terrorists would feel comfortable," he said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, which is backed by Russia, has been carrying out a military offensive in Idlib, a rebel-controlled area of Syria. France has been pushing for a truce in fighting that could prevent more civilian deaths.
Monday's bilateral meeting in Macron's summer home comes ahead of a meeting of the Group of Seven nations in Biarritz, France at the end of the week. Russia was excluded from the group after it annexed Crimea in 2014.