KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko won’t be attending the World Cup final in Brazil on Sunday, a government statement said, denying assertions by Brazilian officials that he would be there.
On Saturday, a Brazilian official said Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin would be in a VIP area at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro for the match pitting Argentina against Germany – a situation that could have paved the way for an encounter for renewed peace talks on ending the conflict between pro-Russian and pro-Western forces in Ukraine.
But while Ukraine’s official presidential website said Poroshenko was invited by Brazil’s president, like other heads of state, it said he wouldn’t be going.
“Considering the situation that Ukraine now finds itself in, the head of state believes it is not possible to attend the final of the World Cup,” the statement said.
Brazil’s Foreign Ministry and president’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.
On Saturday, a Brazilian government official said Poroshenko was persuaded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to fly to Rio and watch the match with her. Merkel, along with French leader Francois Hollande, are the key European leaders trying to broker peace in Ukraine.
The official said he was speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to reveal information about the visit. A press officer at Brazil’s Foreign Ministry also had said Poroshenko would be present at the match. Citing ministry rules, the press officer wouldn’t allow his name to be used.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated in February after protests by people who wanted closer ties with the European Union drove pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych from office. Russia called it an illegal coup and took control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, saying it was protecting the rights of people there who speak Russian as their main language.
Since then, fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian government troops has killed more than 400 people in eastern Ukraine, while tens of thousands have fled their homes, in many cases crossing the border into Russia.
On Saturday, at least four people were killed in eastern Ukraine by artillery fire in an overnight attack in Maryinka, a suburb of Donetsk where pro-Russia insurgents are holed up. The attack happened hours after Poroshenko vowed vengeance for the deaths of 19 soldiers in an insurgent rocket attack near the Russian border.
Putin, whose nation will host the 2018 World Cup, is attending Sunday’s final to take part in a handover ceremony with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
Before the game, Rousseff will host a lunch for several leaders, including Putin and Merkel.
Associated Press writers Bradley Brooks in Rio de Janeiro and Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.
Bradley Brooks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bradleybrooks