MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP
From RFE/RL's News Desk:
RUSSIA, UKRAINE SIGN EU-BROKERED GAS DEAL
Moscow and Kyiv have signed a landmark agreement that will guarantee Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine throughout the winter despite tense relations over the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
The EU-brokered deal, which extends until March 2015, was signed at a ceremony in Brussels by the energy ministers of the two countries, Aleksandr Novak and Yuriy Prodan, and European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.
Outgoing EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who oversaw the signing, hailed the agreement, saying, "There is now no reason for people in Europe to stay cold this winter."
The hard-fought deal followed months-long EU-mediated negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv amid a long and bitter dispute over payments.
The agreement was reached after two days of marathon talks that had stalled before dawn on October 30 when Russia demanded that the EU first agree with Ukraine how to pay Kyiv's outstanding bills and finance gas deliveries through to March.
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 to around $385 per 1,000 cubic meters.
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 off its debts to Russia's state-owned gas giant Gazprom.
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.
He added that the deal "is perhaps the first glimmer of a relaxation" between Ukraine and Russia.
Ukraine's Prodan said the "decisions taken today will provide energy security for Ukraine and the EU."
Moscow cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt and demanding that Ukraine settle its outstanding bills and pay up front for any future deliveries.
The dispute occurred amid Russia's conflict with Ukraine and Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea in March and its subseqent military and political support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
With Ukraine relying on Russia for around 50 percent of its gas, the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.
Russia also provides about one-third of the European Union's gas, about half of which is pumped via Ukraine.
The EU was seeking to avoid a repeat of 2006 and 2009 when Russia halted supplies to Ukraine, disrupting deliveries to Europe during two very cold winters.
But Russia's Novak said after the signing that Moscow will remain a "reliable supplier" of energy to Europe and the deal struck with Ukraine will ensure stable gas deliveries over the winter.
In reaction to the deal, the French and German leaders said in a joint statement that the EU will "fully play its role" to implement the gas deal.
Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel said they had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko earlier October 30, and all four "have welcomed the conclusion of negotiations on the delivery of Russian gas to Ukraine, achieved thanks to the mediation of the European Union."
(Based on live broadcast, with additional reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)
AIR ARMENIA BLAMES RUSSIA FOR FLIGHT SUSPENSIONS
By RFE/RL’s Armenian Service
YEREVAN -- Air Armenia, a passengar and cargo airline based in Yerevan, has suspended all passenger flights until at least December 20 over financial difficulties that the firm is blaming on Russia.
Air Armenia says it is unable continue regular passenger services because of a “panic” among investors and customers over a statement by Russia's federal air navigation service.
Russia's Rosaeronavigatsia announced on September 11 that it would ban Air Armenia from operating flights to Russian cities unless the company paid its outstanding debts by September 21.
Air Armenia said ihe statement damaged its business reputation and that, as a result, its fleet was reduced to one aircraft.
Other than Russian cities, the airline had been flying to Paris, Frankfurt, and Athens.
Air Armenia was founded as a cargo airline in 2003 and began operating commercial passenger flights in 2013 after the bankruptcy of Armavia.
COURT ORDERS NATIONALIZATION OF OLIGARCH'S BASHNEFT SHARES
A Moscow court has ordered the nationalization of a stake in an oil company owned by a detained tycoon.
The Moscow Arbitration Court ruled on October 30 the stake in Bashneft held by billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov's holding company Sistema would be returned to the state.
Prosecutors claimed the stake was illegally privatized by officials in Russia's Bashkortostan region.
The court said new claims could be filed after the worth of Sistema's stake in Bashneft was ascertained.
Yevtushenkov was arrested last month on charges of money laundering related to the acquisition of Bashneft.
His arrested sparked speculation that Russia's largest oil company, state-run Rosneft, would acquire Sistema's Bashneft shares.
Yevtushenkov is one of Russia's richest businessmen, with assets estimated to be worth some $9 billion.
(Based on reporting by AFP, rapsinews.ru, and Interfax)
LATVIA-BASED RUSSIAN NEWS PORTAL BLOCKED IN KAZAKHSTAN
By RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
An online Russian news portal based in Latvia has been blocked in Kazakhstan over an article described by Astana as "inflicting ethnic discord."
Kazakhstan's Ministry of Investments and Development said on October 30 that the Meduza.io website published an article "propagating ethnic discord and threatening the territorial integrity" of Kazakhstan.
The article about ethnic Russians living in Kazakhstan's eastern city of Ust-Kamenogorsk (aka Oskemen) is titled: "Ust-Kamenogorsk People's Republic. Are Locals Ready For Polite Green Men?"
‘Green Men’ refers to the deployment in foreign countries of Russian military forces wearing unmarked green uniforms – as Russia has done in the past in regions of Georgia and Ukraine.
The ministry also has filed a lawsuit against Meduza.io in connection with the article.
It says the website will remain blocked in Kazakhstan until a local court rules in the case.
(With reporting by Interfax)
KYRGYZ WILL NEED PASSPORTS TO ENTER RUSSIA
By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service
Kyrgyzstan's State Registration Ministry says that as of January 1, 2015, Kyrgyz citizens will no longer be able to enter the Russian Federation using their national identification documents.
Since 2007, Kyrgyz labor migrants have been travelling between the two countries with internal identification documents. Now they will have to obtain travel passports.
The regulation, announced on October 29, will affect hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz labor migrants who work in Russia and periodically travel between the two countries.
Moscow announced earlier this year that it wants to tighten by 2015 the regulations for entering Russia by nationals of former Soviet republics that are not members of the Russia-led Customs Union and Eurasian Economic Union.
In May, Kyrgyzstan signed a road map under which it is to join the Customs Union, which currently comprises Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, by the end of 2014.
NATO REPORTS UNUSUAL RUSSIAN WARPLANE ACTIVITY AROUND EUROPE
NATO said on October 29 that it tracked and intercepted four groups of Russian warplanes “conducting significant military manoeuvers” in international airspace close to the borders of the European Union during the previous 24 hours.
NATO’s SHAPE military headquarters in Mons, Belgium said: “These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace.”
It said the planes included strategic bombers, fighters, and tanker aircraft.
They were detected over the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Black Sea on October 28 and 29.
Russian bombers flew south all the way to international airspace west of Portugal and Spain.
Norwegian, British, Portuguese, German, Danish, and Turkish fighters were scrambled to intercept and identify the Russian planes.
Planes from the non-NATO nations of Finland and Sweden also responded.
Since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, tensions between NATO and Russia have risen to the highest level since the Cold War.
(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)