By Vladimir Soldatkin
MOSCOW (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande met Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Ukraine crisis during a brief stopover at a Moscow airport on Saturday.
Putin looked nervous as he greeted Hollande, who was on his way back to France after a trip to Kazakhstan and is the most senior Western leader to visit Russia since it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March.
"Mister President, I decided we should discuss problems regarding the Ukraine crisis," Hollande told Putin via an interpreter at Vnukovo international airport, adding that he hoped for progress towards an end to the crisis.
Putin said he was confident Hollande's brief visit could help secure progress in the crisis, in which the West has imposed sanctions on Russia and relations between Moscow and the West are at their lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War.
In brief comments while reporters were present, Hollande did not say whether he had brought any new proposals for ending fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine which has killed over 4,300 people since April.
The French leader said during his trip to Kazakhstan that he, Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel should "start the process of reducing tension" together.
Hollande indicated he wanted to address some of the issues raised in a speech by Putin on Thursday in which the Kremlin leader accused "enemies of yesterday" of trying to bring a new Iron Curtain down around Russia.
While visiting Kazakhstan for talks with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a Putin ally, Hollande said Putin should look to the future rather than the past to help ease tension over the Ukraine crisis.
"I heard your speech a couple of hours ago and I think that at some point (we) should get rid of obstacles which may divide us. I think we can do this," Hollande said at Vnukovo airport.
Hollande last met Putin in Brisbane last month when both were attending a G20 summit, at which Western leaders held out the threat of imposing more sanctions on Russia if it did not do more to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
NATO and Western powers accuse Moscow of sending troops and weapons to back the rebels. Moscow denies this.
Hollande last month suspended indefinitely the delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers ordered by Russia because of the conflict in Ukraine.
He helped bring Poroshenko and Putin together in June for their first meeting since The Ukrainian was elected president. Both were attending World War Two anniversary events in France.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Reshetnikov at Vnukovo, Writing by Katya Golubkova, Editing by Timothy Heritage)