Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Power Vertical

Podcast: Love Thy Neighbor

Neighborly relations.
Neighborly relations.
It was the U-Turn heard around Eastern Europe.

For months, Ukraine appeared ready to face down pressure from Russia and sign an association agreement and free trade pact with the European Union at its upcoming Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius. And polls showed that public opinion -- albeit by a small margin -- as well as much of the country's business elite, supported this course.

And then, at the 11th hour, after President Viktor Yanukovych made a trip to Moscow for closed-door meetings with Vladimir Putin, they flip-flopped, illustrating Moscow's continued sway over its neighbors.

In the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we discuss Russia's policy toward its neighbors in advance of the EU's Vilnius summit. 

Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, an expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows" and special guest Edward Lucas, international editor for "The Economist" and author of the book "Deception: Spies, Lies, and How Russia Deceives the West."


Power Vertical Podcast -- November 22, 2013
Power Vertical Podcast -- November 22, 2013i
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.
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Comment Sorting
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 22, 2013 18:57
I wonder what exactly EU officials are going to do in Vilnius the next week: Belarus has never had an intention of signing anything at all, Armenia declined the idea of an Association with the EU and preferred to join the Russo-Kazakh-Belarus-led Customs Union, and now the Ukraine decided to suspend the process of joining the Association. So, what else is there to discuss in Vilnius? I guess, they will spend some time taking about the tough life of Nadejda Tolokonnikova, as long as there is nothing else they can do...
In Response

by: Asehpe from: The Netherlands
November 23, 2013 00:24
You wouldn't have to wonder if you read up a little on the topic. Look around the internet, go to the EU summit website, read a little more... You'll soon find out the answer to the questions that trouble you so.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 23, 2013 13:46
Aha, I am just so damn curious: some EU guys coming to Vilnius to sign an Association Agreement with the Ukraine and Armenia, whereas the leaderships of the latter two countries have no intentions of signing anything - those who write for the EU summit website will have to be very creative in order to write up an agenda for this kind of "event" :-)).
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
November 23, 2013 20:10
Eugenio gloats again about new victory of expanding Russia,
That made EU betray Ukraine: "only them or us, the Prussia".
To be sure, he silenced in advance any related comments.
Eugenio destroys speech, while expanding and robbing!
In Response

by: Asehpe from: The Netherlands
November 27, 2013 04:05
Well, be curious then. It's always better to be curious than to be so fully convinced of something that curiosity is no longer even a dreamlike possibility, wouldn't you agree? :-) Where there is curiosity, there is hope of change... Let me wish you a lot of curiosity, now and in the future.
In Response

by: Mike
November 24, 2013 06:16
Lucas and Galeotti with Whitmore moderating is like the above overly twisted piece.

Ditto the venues that Whitmore chooses to promote.

In actuality, Ukraine has chosen a more pragmatic path of not bowing to any pressure. Instead, buying time to review the options it has.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
November 23, 2013 19:59

Russian folk stories about "Ivan the Stupid" being smart,
Often end-up on a crossroad of three roads. As for West,
Europe, created by Iberian-Caucasians settlements, first,
Was busted by betrayers of Rome and Reme - than arts,
As Roman Empire falling, eaten by Normans and the rest.

Fighting Europe ended in Democratic, but Imperial modes,
Some rise of new revival - only rearm for the larger battles,
As barbarians were opening big mouth again to eat in fold
Prospering again Iberian-Caucasians Civilizations, Europe,
Revolution's Host and restored freedoms in Eastern World.

There are always two entities - the creator and the usurper,
Trying enslave and plagiarize the first, threatening with war.
There are always three roads - divide Europe, for Russians,
As they did once forging and using second empire, Prussia,
One choice for East and Central Europe, to be enslaved hor.

It is only two roads, be a colony of forged as "Union" Prussia,
Or a colony of new "Union" Russia? Only one of two choices?
Why not a third choice - be free and trade with both - Russia
And European Union? In order to prevent it, denying speech,
Russia got silenced me again, blackmailing Ukraine as leech.

They using secret pacts with the barbarians, restore empires,
And Ivan's canning luring, like division of East Europe before,
As Molotov lured Robentroph, as Ivanov lured NATO, saying:
"This part is for me, that part is for you" - dancing with a lure.
Is Germany-Austria owns EU to force Ukraine to the ordeal?

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 23, 2013 21:07
It looks like for this coming Sunday (24.11) the EU with the support of RFE/RL is planning to organize another "revolution" in the Ukraine with the purpose of finally getting the Ukrainian govt sign a free-trade agreement with the EU. I have just had a look at some Ukrainian web-sites: the RFE/RL is helping them to organize a live transmission of the "revolution" from the Kiev's Maidan. Let's see if you, guys, are going to be any more successful in the Ukraine than you have been in Syria in September :-)).
In Response

by: Asehpe from: the Netherlands
November 27, 2013 04:07
Yes, because it's truly impossible that people in Ukraine might actually want something that you don't agree with. Now that would be too much to believe in, now wouldn't it?

The foreign enemies! The horror! Ah, if only there were no foreigners in this world...
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 27, 2013 09:44
Aha, good luck with this new "revolution" - it will be just as successful as you, guys, trying to remove Bashar from Syria for the last 2,5 years.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
November 28, 2013 07:03
Eugenio pretend, or indeed do not understand, your meaning.
Netherland as Eastern Europe, fought for Freedom from Nazis,
Before it fought many, like Inquisition, than British encroaching,
As they helped Brits, later Peter with artillery and navy, seeing
Later Russia-Prussia destroying part by part Europe's East.

The natural instinct of Netherland is Prudent Independence,
In East and Central Europe, specially Ukraine that is largest
Country in the region. You simply say that Ukraine has right
To go strait, not to be enslaved-repopulated by the Russians
And by logical parallels, not be enslaved also by the Prussia.

Eugenio trying, as usual, just opposite, weather "CIA plotted"
And "Helena participated", Ukraine forge brake another "wall",
Like Berlin Wall - grabbed by Germany-Austria amalgamated,
Or "KGB, Russia-shtaby, ethnic Russia plotted" another hole
Made by Russia invaders, like Moldova or Georgia, truncated.

by: Jack from: US
November 24, 2013 03:54
the Ukraine decided to avoid fate of NATO minions - being controlled by Washington mafia

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 24, 2013 20:12
Aha, it looks like the Beavuses are getting compeletely desperate and have tried to organize "revoluations" in two countries where pro-US govts have been kicked out of power and replaces by anti-US/EU forces over the last several years:
(a) in Venezuela, a professional US-financed loser Capriles woke up after several months of having no idea what to do about having being defeated in the presidential election last Spring and organized a massive "protest" demonstration:
(b) and in Ukraine the traditional politically bankrupt political forces that have misgoverened the country between 2005 and 2010 have tried to repeat the coup d'etat that they had successfully staged back in 2004:
It looks like however in both cases, those pro-US bacnkrupt losers are just as inpet as their bosses from Washington DC: they are good at making noise, but are completely unable to achieve any of their policy goals :-).
In Response

by: Ivanushka the Fool from: Bear Cave
November 25, 2013 09:08
Comrades Eugenio and Jackgb are right as always although they are left/overs/from the USSR.Nobody,but nobody,man wants those bloody Europeans-all the Ukrainians want is another Holodomor and we all want the soviet-Russian Teddy Bear to take good care of us-as nobody else can-no we must not forget to give EU genio and Jack the Joke extra rations of 100 gramms of vodka and they can also share a tin of selyodka and a Xmass copy of the russian edition of Playboy.Keep up the Rott/en Red Front rebyata-you`re on your right way to the fiery red-hot furnace!!! Ei,ukhnyem!!!
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 25, 2013 19:02
Dear Camel, irrespectively of what you might want, just look at what has been happening in and around Syria and Iran the last several months, and this will give you an idea of which way the wind on the intl arena is blowing. The above cited Ukraine and Venezuela are two further example to support this point.
Cheers from Vienna!
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
November 28, 2013 18:38
Eugenio again, trying sunk us into bubbling about scores
That Russia made against the West, as imperial spheres
Of influence to be created, while "Ivan the Fool" is fooling
Around same approach - like "Common Wealth" restoring
Not "Independent States", but "left-overs" of former USSR,
Be sold to Prussia of Sweden and Polls, or Russian Czars.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
November 25, 2013 13:05
A massive crowd of between 50,000 to 100,000 people poured into the streets of Kiev to protest this decision. Putin and Yanukovich are just playing for time, no rational young person in Ukraine today would want better relations with Russia than with the EU. Europe has so much more to offer that Russia simple pales into invisibility by comparison. Ukraine reject Russia long ago, and there is no turning back.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 25, 2013 19:10
You are saying: "Europe has so much more to offer" :-)). Aha, Europe is offering a lot to its memeber states: 25 % unemployment rate to Greece and Spain, 3 years in a row of shrinking economy to Italy, -8,9 % of GDP "growth" to Cyprus this year, cutting salaries of workers and increasing bonuses of banksters - all of which leads to daily protests AGAINST the EU in most EU member states ever since the outbreak of the crisis in 2008.
You have for sure never heard of those things - no wonder, you get "informed" from the sources close to RFE/RL :-)). Will you even find Europe on the map of the world, La Russ from the USA :-))?
In Response

by: Anonymous
November 27, 2013 04:10
No, laddie. Europe is offering money. Russia, too, by the way, nothing more than that, despite all the "we're one people/orthodox christendom" mumbo-jumbo. It's just that Europe has a lot more money (plus know-how; Russia is still all about mineral resources and weapons).

But you know that. After all, you choose to live in Vienna, not in Moscow...
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 27, 2013 09:43
Anonymous is saying: "Europe is offering money". Europe is offering money??? Really??? What money and why is it that Yanoukovitsch is not taking it???
You know, it's funny to see someone thinking that the EU can offer any money to anyone at all, given that here in the EU they have been cutting spending and closing enterprises ever since the outbreak of the never-ending Euro-crisis in 2008. Someone who - like the EU - is simpy bankrupt can hardly offer anyone any money.
In Response

by: Asehpe from: The Netherlands
December 01, 2013 03:06
Because Putin won't let him, silly. Ask the Armenians...
In Response

by: Mike
November 26, 2013 06:15
In your idiotically sticky dreams perhaps.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
November 29, 2013 22:36
CIS, including Ukraine, are independent nations!
It is sick to see on all forums, media and press,
Children of Quislings of Russian occupation
Try create Russian colonial empire of serfs,
As children of Quislings of Nazi's invasions
Try old dream, US of Europe, ran by Germ.

Both spitting against river of World History,
But they have armies - telepaths and spies
That pushing Ukraine and CIS, by hysteria
Of crafting rules to repossess - take or die!

Sure, Ukrainian people shouldn't be fooled
By Yanukovich promise - Russia has ways,
Forging rules - enslave-repossess as gulls.
Same is ran by Germs EU - chipping away
By set of rules independence of members...

Ukraine have stay firm, by free trade rules,
It can take its time - but people have know,
Exactly how much the Russia-Prussia gulls
Might snick at their back, absorbing Europe.

The Power Vertical Feed

In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More



According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."



From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Top managers at a Moscow airport have resigned and four more airport workers have been detained over a plane crash that killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when a corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee said on October 23 that prosecutors had detained an air-traffic controller intern, her supervisor, the head of air-traffic controllers, and the chief of runway cleaning.

Meanwhile, the airport announced the resigntion of its director-general, Andrei Dyakov, and his deputy, Sergei Solntsev.

And a Moscow court ordered that the snowplough driver remain in custody until December 21.

The driver says that he has lost his bearings before the collision.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, Interfax, and TASS)

And these items from Reuters:


By Denis Pinchuk

MOSCOW, Oct 23 (Reuters) - A Russian court decided on Thursday to postpone to next week a hearing on a move to wrest control of an oil company from oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov, a case that has deepened investors' fears the Kremlin wants to reclaim prized assets.

Russian prosecutors filed the suit last month to regain state ownership of Bashneft, saying there had been alleged violations in the privatisation and subsequent sale of the oil producer to Russian oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Sistema in 2009.

On Thursday, the judge at the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled in favour of the prosecutors who had requested more time to prepare their case and said the next hearing would take place on Oct. 30.

Sistema's shares, which lost 70 percent after it reached a peak this year in July, traded down nearly 5 percent in early trading in Moscow. Bashneft's shares were down 1.3 percent on the day.

In September, a Moscow court ordered the seizure of Sistema's majority stake in Bashneft a day after a judge refused to release Yevtushenkov, who is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition.

The case centres on the privatisation of oil production and refining assets in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan in the Ural mountains in the early 2000s and Bashneft's subsequent sale to Sistema.

The Russian investigators say the privatisation and the sale was illegal.

Sistema, which directly owns almost 72 percent of Bashneft's voting rights and has a stake of 86.7 percent, including 12.6 percent which it owns through its subsidiary Sistema-Invest, has denied the allegations.

Yevtushenkov is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

Some analysts have said that state-controlled Rosneft , Russia's biggest oil producer run by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, was interested in buying Bashneft.

The company, Russia's sixth largest crude oil producer, extracted more than 16 million tonnes (320,000 barrels per day) of crude oil last year, increasing output by more than 4 percent - the best results among domestic majors after launching production at new deposits in the Arctic.

Its oil refining capacity stands at 24.1 million tonnes a year. (Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; writing by Katya Golubkova and Vladimir Soldatkin, editing by Elizabeth Piper and William Hardy)


BRUSSELS, Oct 22 (Reuters) - NATO and Swedish fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a Russian intelligence-gathering plane that briefly entered Estonian airspace on Tuesday, the alliance said on Wednesday.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry called the Russian ambassador to the ministry and gave him a protest note over the incursion, the Estonian defence forces said.

Fighters from Denmark as well as Portuguese F-16s from NATO's air policing mission in the Baltics took off after radar detected an unidentified aircraft flying close to NATO airspace in the Baltic Sea, NATO said.

The plane was identified as a Russian IL-20 intelligence-gathering aircraft that had taken off from Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, heading towards Denmark.

The Russian aircraft was first intercepted by Danish F-16s and later, as it headed further north, by fighters from Sweden, which is not a NATO member.

The Russian aircraft turned south again, entering Estonian airspace for less than one minute, a NATO statement said.

Portuguese F-16s, which had been scrambled from their base in Lithuania, escorted the Russian plane away from NATO airspace.

Interceptions of Russian military aircraft by NATO planes over the Baltic region have increased since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in March, but usually Russian planes only approach NATO airspace and do not enter it, a NATO source said.

At a time when tension between Russia and the West is running high over Ukraine, Swedish forces have been scouring the sea off Stockholm following reports of activity by foreign submarines or divers using an underwater vehicle. (Reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels and David Mardiste in Tallinn; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

11:12 October 22, 2014


In less than a week, on October 27, Lithuania is scheduled to open its first Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal at the port of Klaipeda. The terminal, which will begin receiving deliveries in early 2015, is a significant step toward changing the energy equation in Lithuania, the Baltic states, and ultimately in Europe as a whole.

Initially, Lithuania plans to buy enough LNG to cover about a quarter of its domestic needs. But once the terminal is operating at full capacity, and once Lithuania's pipelines to Latvia are upgraded, it will be able to supply 90 percent of the three Baltic states' natural gas demand.

Oh, and by the way, Lithuania's current supply contract with Gazprom expires at the end of next year.

And this is just one of the ways the gas game is changing. Poland is also building a LNG import terminal, which is scheduled to go online in mid-2015.

And as energy analyst  Wenyuan Qiu writes in "The Moscow Times" today, a steep rise in U.S. production has made it "functionally independent of offshore suppliers." As a result, "the closure of the U.S. LNG import market is forcing producers in the Middle East and Africa to look for customers elsewhere" leading to "downward pressure on prices" in Europe.

"Russia will remain an important European energy provider because its gas is relatively economic. But Russia's ability to leverage this resource as an instrument of foreign policy is diminishing," Qiu writes.


08:27 October 22, 2014


Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:


European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has announced substantial progress was reached in October 21 talks between representatives of Ukraine and Russia on gas supplies, but a final deal has yet to be agreed.

A summit held in Milan October 17 had produced hopes for a breakthrough, after Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and said they had reached a preliminary agreement on a gas price until March 31.

Oettinger said as part of tentative deals, Ukraine planned to purchase some 4 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia before the end of this year.

Oettinger also said Ukraine would pay $1.4 billion of its debt to Russia for gas supplies already received before the end of October and another $1.6 billion by the end of this year.

The head of Russia's delegation to the talks, Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, said the price of gas for Ukraine would be $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

However, the price, which was first announced by Poroshenko following his meeting with Putin on October 17, is still higher than the average of some $350 that Gazprom charges EU companies

Novak said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- provided Ukraine pays in advance.

However, Novak added the EU should take responsibility for guaranteeing Ukraine pay its $5.3-billion debt for gas to Russia before the end of 2014.

Kyiv has asked the EU for an additional loan of $2.6 billion, but a spokesman stressed on October 21 that the request was not made in connection with the ongoing gas talks.

The EU has so far offered Kyiv loans totalling more than $2 billion.

Russia cut off gas deliveries tro Ukraine in mid-June, citing the $5.3-billion debt. However, Gazprom has not halted supplies transiting Ukraine en route to EU member states.

But Novak again ruled out Gazprom's agreeing to let EU states re-export its gas to Ukraine.

Oettinger announced another meeting would be held in Brussels on October 29.

Separately, the Kremlin said Putin and Poroshenko discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine among other issues during a telephone conversation October 21.

It didn't provide further details.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and Interfax)


The independent Russian radio station "Ekho Moskvy" said it has been informed of an unscheduled inspection by the prosecutor's office.

The station's deputy chief editor Sergei Buntman said on October 21, "We received a document dated from yesterday (October 20) that said the main directorate of the Emergency Situation's Ministry" had requested the prosecutor's office to conduct an inspection of the radio station.

Buntman said according to the document, the inspection would start on October 22 and last for 20 working days.

"Taking into consideration days off, that means almost a month," Buntman said, and he added that the inspection should not affect the activities of the station.

Buntman said, "Of course questions arise about why this decision is taken so suddenly."

"Echo Moskvy" posted a copy of the document the radio station received that indicated the inspection was meant to determine if the station was in compliance with fire safety laws.

(Based on reporting by "Ekho Moskvy" and Interfax)


The Kremlin said the Russian and Ukrainian presidents stressed the importance of supporting the peace process in Ukraine and observing the ceasefire the country's south-east during a phone conversation on October 21.

President Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko also discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine after a tentative agreement reached in Milan last week on the basic terms of future supplies, the statement said.

It didn't provide further details.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Some progress was reportedly made toward resolving the issue of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine during last week's talks in Milan.

Poroshenko said a preliminary agreement had been reached on a price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of March -- $100 less than Russia had originally demanded.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and


Russian investigators say the air crash that has killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total was caused “criminal negligence” by airport officials.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when his corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee warned that several senior airport officials would be suspended, adding that investigators will assess the "actions and non-action" of management.

The snow plough driver has already been detained.

Investigators have said the man was drunk at the time of the accident, which his lawyer denied.

Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin "highly esteemed" Margerie's business qualities and his "consistent devotion" to developing bilateral Russia-French relations.

(Based on reporting by AFP, Interfax, and TASS)


16:08 October 17, 2014


I just posted a new piece on the Power Vertical blog: Putin's Class of 2014.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday....

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

You can read it all here.


We're in post-production for the new Power Vertical Podcast: Ukraine's Loyal Russians

A country divided between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east. An irreconcilable schism forged in history and set in stone. Lviv vs. Luhansk; Orange vs. Blue.

It's long been a truism that Ukraine was hopelessly split. It's a truism repeated endlessly by the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- and one used by Vladimir Putin to justify his Novorossiya project.

But it's a truism that the majority of Ukraine's ethnic Russians -- in cities like Odesa and Mariupol in the south to Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia in the east to Kharkiv in the north  -- are proving false. Most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, it turns out, are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a professor of Russian and Ukrainian history at Kyiv Mohyla University and Natalya Churikova, Senior Editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. It's in post-production now and will be up soon.


13:25 October 17, 2014


Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:



Italy's prime minister said he was "really positive" about the prospects for a solution to the Ukraine conflict after a meeting attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and European leaders, but the Kremlin suggested deep rifts remained after the "difficult" talks and accused Western officials of inflexibility.

"In general, I am really positive after this meeting," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said after the talks over breakfast during a Europe-Asia summit that was overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine, where deadly fighting persists in the east despite a cease-fire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Putin, in the spotlight and under pressure from the West to do more to bring peace to Ukraine, said the meeting -- attended by Putin and Poroshenko as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and outgoing EU leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso -- was "good, positive".

But his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave a grimmer account.

"The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, an exchange of opinion is in progress," Peskov told reporters.

He said some participants displayed "a complete lack of desire to take an objective approach" to the Ukraine crisis, which Russia blames on the European Union, the United States, and the pro-Western government that gained power in Ukraine after the ouster of a president sympathetic to Russia, Viktor Yanukovych, In February.

Kyiv, NATO, and Western governments say Russia has supported the rebels with troops, weaponry, and propaganda after illegally annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 3,660 combatants and civilians since April and driven Moscow's ties with the West to post-Cold War lows, prompting punitive sanctions against Moscow and a Russian ban on many foods from the EU, its biggest trading partner for years.

The breakfast-table talks came hours after lengthy Putin-Merkel meeting that stretched past midnight and failed to resolve what the Kremlin said were "serious differences of opinion about the genesis of the internal Ukrainian conflict as well as about the causes of what is happening there now."

Western leaders have rejected Russia's denials of involvement and said Moscow must see to it that a cease-fire and steps toward peace agreed on September 5 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, are implemented.

"It is obviously above all Russia's task to make clear that the Minsk plan is adhered to," Merkel told reporters on October 16. "Unfortunately, there are still a lot of shortcomings but it will be important to look for a dialogue here."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Putin assured the other leaders at the breakfast that Russia does not want a divided Ukraine or a frozen crisis.

Kremlin critics say Russia has supported the cease-fire and plans for peace because the September 5 agreement followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, giving Moscow a lever to influence its France-sized neighbor and keep it destabilized - and out of NATO - for years to come.

Putin and Poroshenko were to meet with Merkel and Hollande later on October 17.

Putin, who basked in attention at a military parade in mostly Slavic, Orthodox Christian Serbia on October 16, set the stage for tense talks in Milan by warning in Belgrade that a dispute with Kyiv over natural gas could jeopardize Russian supplies to Europe via transit nation Ukraine this winter.

He said Europe faces "major transit risks" to gas supplies from Russia.

Blaming Kyiv in advance for any possible cuts in supplies to Europe, Putin said that if Ukraine siphons gas from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia will reduce supplies in the amount of the "stolen" gas.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Yanukovych was ousted by street protests he had touched off last November by scrapping plans for a deal tightening ties with the EU and turning toward Russia instead.

In June, Russia halted gas supplies meant for domestic consumption in Ukraine when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Russia is the EU's biggest external gas supplier, providing about one-third of the gas consumed there, and previous price disputes between Moscow and Kyiv have led to supply cuts that have chilled Europeans in wintertime.

Some government officials said the Western leaders would ask Putin to explain the threat of gas supply cuts.

Merkel and Poroshenko held talks earlier on October 16, and Poroshenko said he received "a great demonstration of support for Ukraine" from the German leader.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin also met with former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whom he referred to as Putin's "old friend."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he spoke briefly to Putin and asked him for "maximum cooperation" over the downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in July.

More than half of the 298 people killed were Dutch citizens, and many in the West suspect the plane was shot down by the separatists with a missile system provided by Russia.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the cease-fire, with fierce fighting focusing on the devastated Donetsk international airport and shelling reported in the city of Donetsk and elsewhere almost daily.

Ukrainian military officials said three soldiers were killed and nine wounded on October 16.

NATO said it has not yet detected "significant" movements of Russian troops in a region near the border with Ukraine back to their home bases, as the Kremlin said Putin ordered last week.

A NATO spokesperson said "there is still a large and capable force sitting on the border of Ukraine, and heavy equipment still has to be pulled back [from the border]."

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, Interfax, and AFP)


Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili says attempts by Tbilisi to normalize political relations with Russia have thus far been unsuccessful.

Garibashvili said in Tbilisi on October 16 that the Georgian government had done "all it could" to improve bilateral relations with Moscow has only achieved progress in the economic sector.

The premier's Georgian Dream party took power two years ago pledging to engage with Moscow.

Garibashvili made his comments one day after Russia announced it would sign an "alliance and integration" treaty with the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.

The treaty would create a "common defense infrastructure" between Abkhazia and Russia while forming joint law-enforcement structures and a more integrated economic space.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued an "emergency statement" on the treaty on October 15.

Moscow recognized Abkhazia as an independent state after a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

(Based on reporting by Interfax, AFP, and TASS)


Russian officials temporarily detained and then banned two American journalists from conducting an investigative-journalism workshop in St. Petersburg.

The men were found by a court on October 16 of violating Russian visa regulations and released after several hours.

Randy Covington, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and Joe Bergantino of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting were detained by immigration authorities while conducting the first of a two-day workshop for 14 Russian journalists.

St. Petersburg's branch of the Federal Migration Service said the men's activities "did not correspond" to the purpose of their trip to Russia.

Officials said they could no longer teach the workshop but were free to leave Russia as scheduled.

The New England Center for Investigative Journalism said the men had tourist visas and had already held a workshop in Moscow.

(Based on reporting by AP and "The Boston Globe")

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or