Saturday, October 18, 2014

Russia and Ukraine reach tentative gas deal in Milan

Russia and Ukraine made progress on Friday towards resolving a row over gas supplies, but European leaders said Moscow had to do much more to prop up a fragile ceasefire and end fighting in eastern Ukraine.
The mooted deal aimed at re-opening Russian gas supplies to Ukraine ahead of the cold winter months came as something of a surprise following an initial round of talks in Milan that the Kremlin said was "full of misunderstandings and disagreements".
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin
However, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said a subsequent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of France and German had made some headway in defusing a crisis that has revived memories of Cold War enmity.
"We have the first limited progress on the gas issue. We have agreed on the main parameters of the contract," he said, adding that all sides remain committed to a ceasefire deal struck last month to halt a pro-Russia revolt.
The Kremlin said Putin and Poroshenko would meet one-on-one later on Friday.
The West has clamped sanctions on Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea in March and its support for separatists battling government troops in the east of Ukraine.
Kiev and its Western backers accuse Moscow of aiding the separatist revolt by providing troops and arms. Russia denies the charges but says it has a right to defend the interests of the region's Russian-speaking majority.
EU officials said the gas talks would continue in Brussels next week, with Poroshenko telling reporters that the financing still needed to be resolved.
Moscow cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in June over unpaid debts and a pricing disagreement. This has sparked fears that the Russian gas that transits Ukraine en route to Europe could also be disrupted this winter.
Clearly sympathetic with Kiev, European leaders attending an EU-Asia summit in Milan lined up to tell Russia to ensure full implementation of the ceasefire deal struck last month.
Germany, in particular, sounded gloomy.
"I cannot see a breakthrough here at all so far," Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier on Friday.
"We will continue to talk. There was progress on some details, but the main issue is continued violations of the territorial integrity of Ukraine," she added.
Merkel's position as German leader in effect means that she sets the tone of EU relations with Russia, and she has taken the lead within Europe in trying to persuade Putin to change tack over Ukraine. She had a rocky time in Milan, however, with one German official saying the Russian leader had not displayed a "too constructive mood".
An initial meeting set for Thursday was delayed for hours because Putin flew into Italy well behind schedule. They then held more than 2-1/2 hours of talks that ran well past midnight, with both sides acknowledging discussions had been unproductive.
On Friday, Merkel reprimanded the former Soviet KGB spy in front of EU and Asian leaders, according to people present.
After a speech in which Putin raised doubts about the sovereignty of Ukraine, Merkel reminded him of the 1994 Budapest agreement, in which Russia recognised the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea.
The Kremlin also sounded unhappy about the initial round of meetings -- particularly a breakfast attended by Putin, Poroshenko and an array of EU leaders.
"The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, the exchange of opinion is in progress," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, accusing some unnamed participants of taking an "absolutely biased, non-flexible, non-diplomatic" approach.

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