German Chancellor Angela Merkel has commented that “no breakthrough” has been reached by Russia and Ukraine in their direct negotiations. Though Russia’s president and some EU leaders expressed the view that the talks attempting to solve the Ukraine crisis were positive but difficult, some even suggesting that a real progress had been made, Russia has complained of “difficulties.” The EU leaders were reported as pressing Vladimir Putin to do more to end fighting in the eastern part of Ukraine. While the EU and the U.S. have accused Russia of arming separatist rebels and sending troops to eastern Ukraine, Moscow consistently denies this.
After a second round of talks, Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko announced to the media that the main parameters of a deal to resolve a gas dispute with Russia had been agreed. Most Russian gas supplies to the European Union are delivered using pipelines crossing via Ukraine, and Mr Putin has issued stern warning to Brussels that there are “major transit risks” unless Ukraine settles the row. Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine in the summer, accusing Kiev of failing to pay its debts, while Ukraine has criticized the price set by Moscow, denouncing it as highly unfair.
The gas row came amid a deteriorating relationship between the two countries, after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula earlier in March and the seizure by separatists of parts of eastern Ukraine later in April that has since then led to the killing of more than 3,600 people. After the truce agreed upon between Ukraine and the rebels in September, each side has repeatedly accused the other of repeated shelling. The latest talks took place on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe (ASEM) summit in Milan, Italy. The EU vows to keep its sanctions against Russia over its involvement in the crisis in place until Moscow takes action to defuse it. In a separate but closely related development, Mr Putin has recently ordered the withdrawal of nearly 18,000 Russian troops stationed near the Ukrainian border, though NATO claims that it has not yet seen any sign of a substantial Russian pullback.