Thursday, October 23, 2014


The Power Vertical

Podcast: The Restoration

Then and now.
Then and now.
Ninety-one years and five months ago, five men gathered in Moscow and approved a treaty forming a new union. Sixty-nine years later, that union -- the Soviet Union -- dissolved leaving in its wake 15 independent states. And they've stayed independent for more than two decades.

This week, three men gathered in Astana to form another union -- the Eurasian Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the new grouping is designed to foster the free flow of people, goods, capital, and services. But coming in the wake of Moscow's annexation of Crimea, and against the backdrop of Russia's intervention in eastern Ukraine, suspicions abound that it is but another step in the restoration of the old empire.

In the latest Power Vertical Podcast, I discuss these issues with Merkhat Sharipzhan, a senior correspondent and analyst with RFE/RL's Central Newsroom; and Natalya Churikova, senior editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and host of the program "European Connect."

Enjoy...
Power Vertical Podcast -- May 30, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- May 30, 2014i
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by: Eugenio from: Vienna
May 30, 2014 19:44
And in the meantime Ukraine is flourishing: GDP will shrink by 7 % this year (according to the IMF), three regions (Crimea, Donetsk and Lugansk) broke away from this European civilizied country and on June 3rd Russia will discontinue supplies of natural gas to Ukraine, which will allow the country to enter the new stage of prosperity and eternal happiness. The people of Ukraine have a really strong reason to thank Victoria Nuland and Frau Merkel :-)).
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 01, 2014 13:55
By the way, guys, here is a topic you might find interesting and write a couple of cheap US propaganda articles on: while Russia keeps supporting the anti-EU separatists in Lugansk and Donetsk, the EU and NATO member state France is going ahead with a long pre-planned sale of the Mistral-type large troop-deployment ships to Russia. Today - Sunday - there was even a demonstration in the French ship-yard of Saint-Nazaire against this sale by allegedly French pro-Ukrainian activists. But the French economy - affected by the last five years of stagnation (typical for a number of countries here in the Euro-zone) - of course cannot allow itself the luxury of picking and choosing its clients: whoever pays money will get the product, and Russia is the country that HAS money (whereas Ukraine is apparently going to COST the EU a lot of money).
Source: http://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2014/06/01/manifestation-contre-la-vente-de-mistral-a-la-russie_4429866_3210.html
In Response

by: Asehpe from: The Netherlands
June 02, 2014 01:35
But why should they, my dear friend from the country of what's-his-name, that famous 30's politician? You've got it all laid out for them, in complete oblivion of all Putin is doing to sap the strength of his own people (and Ukraine's). Why, for all I know, you should write the articles yourself, and post them as Archibald Archibaldovich. Why not? If you can't beat them, you have to join them...
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
June 02, 2014 09:49
When a country fights a war against a foreign aggressor to win its freedom, it's logical that this will impose some economic suffering. Russia suffered mightily during World War II.

But what is Russia's excuse now? Russia is mired in recession, the ruble's value is plummeting, inflation is soaring, foreign capital is leaving the country in a tsunami. And Russia isn't fighting any foreign invader as Ukraine is fighting Russia.

In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 02, 2014 22:27
Yes, La Rus..., of course, Russia is "collapsing" - as usual. I am not even mentioning the fact that "Baschar al-Assad's days are numbered and he knows it" :-)).

by: Konstantin from: Loos Angeles
May 30, 2014 20:21
Rephrasing a Russian Poet:
_______________________________________________
Dzerzhinsky's, Lenin's and Serafimovich's drunken "mordas"
Killed 40 Millions, Russians and non-Russians, expand Russia.
Lukashenka and Putin, soften by Kazakh Leader's China deal,
Run into each-other - as it go too far, give Europe to Prussia.
Still, give them an inch - genocidal Russ will expand and kill.
______________________________________________
As they still sucking-up non-Russian nations and nationals
All over the World, even in USA, making us sick and killing
By various services and nurses, killing floors CIA hospitals,
GRU-Spetcnas infection, poison and bestial strangulations,
As my mother killed for vengeance and plagio-blackmailing.
______________________________________________
SOME THINGS IN USSR WERE GOOD (INSPIRATIONS),
SOME BAD (COLLECTIVE MEDIOCRITY), SOME UGLY
(DRESSED AS ROBESPIER'S GILIOTINE RUSSIANS,
EXPANDING THEIR NEW EVIL COLONIAL EMPIRE).

UGLY FORM PROMISSING GOOD WILL END UGLY
(USSR INSTEAD OF COMMON WEALTH OF FREE).
GOOD FORM MIGHT END GOOD, BUT WATCHOUT,
LIFE IS A DYNAMIC COMPETITION AGAINST EVIL
(EXPANDING AND PLOTTING RUSSIA-PRUSSIA)!



by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
May 30, 2014 22:14
World is not uniform, Putin.
As anything also in life - return to basics.
Life is precious - for individual, or whole nation.
The larger entity and its interests, the more hypocrites.

Ukraine is a big country, but hardly survive Russian pressure
Trying destroy genetically Carpathian-Caucasian Civilization,
Invading with damn lie, Varag master slaves-Slavs treachery.
Half of Russia, Volga, classified "non-Slav Tatars" truncation,
As steps on Tatars in Crimea, and knifing "Hohol na koleni!".

Georgia small country - once Common Wealth of Caucasus,
Russia does everything possible destroy them - part by part,
Invading genocide, cleansing, economy squeeze, "Security"
Propaganda, like "Meliton Kantaria leading NATO to put flag
On Kremlin - destroy Russia". Now Putin use the same "uity".

Security issue can be always discussed, without the race war
That Russia force on the World. By the way, truth much better:
Caucasian Civilization at large stretching like Cross, or Sword.
Eastern pillar or blade go through Turkestan and Central Asia.

Northern pillar go through Russia mixed with Ural-Volga world,
Go through Ukraine mixed with Carpathian world. Why they lie,
Inventing multitude by "Mycop-Urartu-Kurd-Russ" Great-Spies
Hypothesis? Truth with all migration of history did OK in USSR,
Better than ridiculous Varag-Prussak empire own Slavs-serfs!


UKRAINE'S BEST FORMULA - INDEPENDENT, STRONG,
PROSPEROUS COUNTRY - CENTER OF EUROPE WITH
FREE TRADE WEST, EAST, INCLUDING RUSSIAN WING,
RENEGOTIATING OLD FRIENDS AT WESTERN BORDER.

GEORGIA WAS ALMOST EXTERMINATED BY RUSSIANS,
SINCE THE 12-13-th THROUGH THE 18-20-th CENTURIES.
BEST FORMULA - COMMON WEALTH OF ALL CAUCASUS
WITH "IVERIA" TYPE GEORGIA UNITED BY SAKARTVELO
TO PRESERVE GENETICS AND SOULS OF CAUCASIANS.

FROM POIN OF SECURITY, GEORGIANS SINCE KNOWN
HISTORY, SOME 12 MILLENNIUMS - POSITIVE CENTER
OF CAUCASIAN RACE AND HUMAN CIVILIZATION - DID
CONTRIBUTE TO SUCH A SECURITY AND PROGRESS,
EVEN IN LATE USSR- US CONFEDENTIAL MITTINGS IN
GEORGIA WITH THE INTELLECTUALS AND SCIENTISTS.

BECAUSE OF RUSSIAN RACE WARS, NEITHER GEORGIA
CAN AFFORD LIVE WITHOUT EUROPEAN-INTERNATIONAL
HELP, NOR IT THREATENS RUSSIA EVEN IF NATO HELPS
IN SOME DEFENCE AREAS - WHICH WILL CORRESPOND
TO RUSSIA WILL. WILL RUSSIA PULL BACK, OR EXPAND?

by: Mamuka
June 01, 2014 21:19
Our congenial host (who, thankfully, did not laugh at his own "witty" comments as much as in previous podkasti) said "we all knew what Putin was doing in 2008 when he provoked Misha" (and that is of course a paraphrase). Well then why did we not hear this at the time? We all knew that Putin played Misha like a violin and poor Misha obliged almost on cue. Yet the popular image at the time was that somehow Georgia invaded Russia.

Also I think you are correct in your assessement of Nazarbayev as a cunning politician.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 03, 2014 11:43
Commenting on your article "U.S. Base In Kyrgyzstan Officially Closes", I wanted to say that one more country is saying the phrase that became customary to many nations in the world: "Bye bye, gringo shit, go back to Detroit to continue looking for food in the garbage" :-)).

by: peter from: ottawa
June 04, 2014 11:36
Soon, Russia will be surrounded by Nato bases in Norway, Finland, the Baltics, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Uzbekistan, South Korea, Aleusian and the Artic . All with missiles, drones, antennas, gaggets, gizmos, sensors add the NSA, CIA and FBI that comes with all these bases, jamming , eavesdropping, spying on a technological backward Russia with no access to western credit, worthless ruble and a lost Soviet ideology. Switch sides Evgeny aka Eugenio before you sink in your morass. Cheers.

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

11:11

THERE IS NO RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN?

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."

11:01

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

MOSCOW AIRPORT MANAGERS RESIGNED, MORE SUSPECTS DETAINED OVER CRASH

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:

COURT POSTPONES RULING ON BASHNEFT SHARES

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)

NATO, SWEDISH FIGHTERS SCRAMBLE TO INTERCEPT RUSSIAN PLANE

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

THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF RUSSIA'S 'GAS WEAPON'

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

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-UKRAINE GAS DEAL REPORTEDLY CLOSER

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)

PROSECUTORS TARGET EKHO MOSKVY

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)

PUTIN, POROSHENKO DISCUSS CEASEFIRE AND GAS SUPPLIES

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 kremlin.ru)

RUSSIAN INVESTIGATORS SAY 'CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE' BEHIND TOTAL AIR CRASH

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

NEW POWER VERTICAL BLOG

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.

AND A NEW POWER VERTICAL PODCAST COMING SOON

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

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-WEST RIFT PERSIST AFTER DIFFICULT UKRAINE CRISIS TALKS

By RFE/RL

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 PM SAYS NO PROGRESS NORMALIZING RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW

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)

RUSSIA DETAINS TWO JOURNALISTS OVER WORKSHOP

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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About This Blog

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