EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP
From RFE/RL's News Desk:
EUROPE PRAISES GAS DEAL, PRESSES RUSSIA ON REBEL VOTES
European leaders have welcomed a deal under which Russia is to restore natural-gas supplies to Ukraine but told Vladimir Putin that elections held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine on November 2 will be illegitimate.
Russian President Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande spoke in a four-way telephone conversation overnight after Ukraine and Russia sealed a deal meant to guarantee Russian gas supplies to Ukraine through March 2015.
All four leaders welcomed the gas deal signed late on October 30 in Brussels, a German government spokesperson said, and a Kremlin statement called the agreement "an important step in the context of the future provision of uninterrupted transit of gas to Europe."
But a statement from Poroshenko's office said "Ukraine, Germany and France expressed (the) clear common position that they would not recognize the elections planned by separatists."
It said the elections on rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions would contradict an agreement reached in Minsk on September 5 and aimed to end the conflict between Kyiv and the pro-Russian rebels, which has killed more than 3,700 people since April and poisoned East-West ties.
It said Poroshenko, Merkel, and Hollande "urged Russia not to recognize those elections as well."
Merkel's spokesman, Georg Streiter, said that "Merkel and Hollande underlined that there can only be a ballot in line with Ukrainian law."
He said the votes would violate the Minsk agreement and further complicate efforts to find a solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
"The German government will not recognize these illegitimate elections," Streiter told a news conference, adding that European leaders were united on this issue and had agreed on this at a summit last week in Brussels.
Moscow has made no formal recognition of the "people's republics" the separatists have proclaimed in Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Kremlin denies involvement in the conflict despite what Kyiv and NATO say is clear evidence that Russia has sent troops and weapons into Ukraine to help the separatists.
But in comments published on October 28, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would "of course recognize the results" of the separatists' elections.
The Kremlin statement about the telephone conversation made no mention of the elections.
It also said the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation the September 5 agreement, and underscored the need to observe the cease-fire that was central to the Minsk deal.
The Kremlin said Russia believes the "the establishment of a steady dialogue" between Kyiv and the separatists would "undoubtedly" help stabilize the situation.
Kremlin critics say Russia supported the September 5 agreement because it followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Donetsk and Luhansk, potentially giving Moscow a lever of influence on Ukraine for years to come.
The November 2 balloting in the rebel-held regions comes a week after those areas stayed out of voting in in Ukraine's parliamentary election on October 26, in which pro-Western parties won a sweeping victory.
Poroshenko proposed on October 31 that Arseniy Yatsenyuk stay on as prime minister.
"I have proposed that the Petro Poroshenko Bloc put forward Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the post of prime minister," Poroshenko wrote on Twitter.
Yatsenyuk's People's Front party narrowly beat out the Petro Poroshenko Bloc in voting by party in the October 26 election, according to a nearly complete count.
But Poroshenko's bloc fared better in first-past-the-post voting and was positioned to take more parliament seats than the People's Front, according to election commission data.
Yatsenyuk is a vocal critic of Russia and is popular among Western governments for his support for economic reforms.
He is a target of criticism from Russian officials who say the government that came to power in Ukraine after former president Viktor Yanukovych fled in February in the face of protests seized control in an illegal coup d'etat supported by the West.
Russia annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine in March, adding to tension that increased still further when the conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted the following month.
The hard-fought gas deal provided what European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger called "perhaps the first glimmer of a relaxation" between Ukraine and Russia.
Russia had raised the price it was asking Kyiv pay for gas after Yanukovych's ouster and then stopped supplying gas to Ukraine in June, citing what it said was $5.3 billion in debt and demanding advance payment for any future supplies.
Oettinger said that under the accord, Ukraine will pay Russia $1.45 billion in gas arrears within "days" for Moscow to resume gas deliveries.
He said Russia will then "immediately" lower Ukraine's gas price by 100 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters.
Yatsenyuk, in figures later confirmed by Moscow, said Ukraine would pay $378 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of 2014 and $365 in the first quarter of 2015.
Kyiv will subsequently have access to Russian gas deliveries in exchange for pre-payment, according to Oettinger.
He said Ukraine also agreed to settle another $1.65 billion in arrears by the end of the year.
The deal is expected to include EU funding to help Ukraine pay.
Oettinger said, "we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter," not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region.
Ukraine normally relies on Russia for about the half the gas it uses, and the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.
Russia also provides about one-third of the gas consumed in the European Union, with about half of that pumped via Ukraine.
The EU was seeking to avoid a repeat of 2006 and 2009, when Russia halted supplies to Ukraine amid price disputes, disrupting deliveries to Europe during two cold winters.
News of the agreement appeared to bring relief in Europe, with British wholesale gas prices for November and December falling to their lowest ever levels on October 31.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)
RUSSIA EXTENDS DETENTION OF ESTONIAN POLICE OFFICER
A Moscow court has extended by two months the detention of an Estonian police officer charged with espionage.
Lefortovo Court spokesperson Yulia Sotnikova said on October 31 that a judge had "granted a request from investigators to prolong the period of detention until January 5" of Eston Kohver.
Kohver was detained on September 5 on espionage charges.
Moscow claims Kohver was seized inside Russia, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border.
The case has strained relations between Russia and Estonia.
The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official.
(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)
EU FILES WTO TRADE COMPLAINT AGAINST RUSSIA
The European Union has launched a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Russian import duties on some European agricultural and manufactured goods.
The Geneva-based international arbitration body said on October 31 that the EU accuses Russia of levying tariffs on several types of goods that are above the legally binding tariff ceilings that Moscow has agreed to within the WTO mechanism.
Those goods include paper and paperboard, palm oil, and refrigerators.
Under WTO rules, the parties have 60 days to work out a mutually agreed solution. After that, the EU could ask the WTO to adjudicate.
The dispute is the fifth involving Russia and the EU at the WTO.
The European Commission's spokesman for trade issues, Wojtek Talko, said the case was not a complaint against the recent ban on Russian food imports from Europe.
(Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa)
RUSSIAN CENTRAL BANK RAISES INTEREST RATES
The Russian central bank said it would raise interest rates from 8 percent to 9.5 percent as Western sanctions and falling oil prices have sent the Russian ruble plummeting.
The Bank of Russia's board of directors made the decision to raise interest rates at an October 31 meeting.
The central bank had increased the rate to 8 percent in late July, following increased to 5.5 percent in March and 7.5 percent in April.
The United States, European Union and other nations have imposed successive rounds of sanctions on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.
Russia annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine in March, and Kyiv and NATO accuse Moscow of aiding pro-Russian separatists with troops and arms during a conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 3,700 people in eastern Ukraine since April.
(Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax, and AFP)
U.S AMBASSADOR TO KYRGYZSTAN WARNS OF RUSSIAN INFLUENCE
The U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan says that the Central Asian nation's "growing partnership with Russia" presents a challenge to U.S. efforts to support democracy in Kyrgyzstan.
In an article published on the website of the Council of American Ambassadors, Pamela Spratlen (eds: a woman) said the "strong partnership" that Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has forged with Russian President Vladimir Putin "has had its impact on our efforts."
"It remains an unanswered question how Kyrgyzstan can maintain its democratic trajectory while pursuing this partnership," she said.
Spratlen also said that many in Kyrgyzstan get their news from Russian media, and that in the case of the Ukraine crisis "the strident anti-American tone taken by Russian propaganda has crystallized local public opinion around Moscow's narrative of events there."
Kyrgyzstan has seemed to follow Moscow's lead on several issues recently, including drafting laws that legitimize discrimination against homosexuals and would require foreign-based organizations to register as "foreign agents."
(Based on Spratlen article: https://www.americanambassadors.org/publications/ambassadors-review/fall-2014/democracy-in-central-asia-supporting-kyrgyzstan-s-island-of-democracy)
RUSSIAN ACTOR FIRES MACHINE GUN IN DONETSK
Ukrainian authorities have filed charges and Russia's Union of Journalists is demanding an apology after a prominent Russian actor was filmed firing a machine gun near the Donetsk airport while wearing patches that identified him as a member of the press.
Ukraine's Interior Ministry on October 31 filed criminal charges against Mikhail Porechenkov for the pictures taken with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page, "Mikhail Porechenkov, present in Donetsk, personally took part in firing on units of Ukraine's armed forces using an automatic weapon."
Pavel Gutiontov of Russia's Union of Journalists called the incident "irresponsible behavior on the part of the actor" and demanded an apology.
Porechenkov said that it was a staged scene, that he was firing blanks, and that the only bullet-resistant vest and helmet he could find were labelled "press."
(Based on reporting by UNIAN, TASS, and Interfax)