Russia appears to have suffered setbacks over Ukraine and over Moscow's muscle-flexing in the Baltic Sea, with German intelligence reportedly convinced pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine downed a Malaysian airliner in July and Sweden scouring its coastal waters for what could be a crippled Russian submarine.
Russia said on October 19 that none of its submarines was involved in what Sweden is calling "foreign underwater activity" in waters near Stockholm.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that "there have been no irregular situations and, even less so, accidents involving Russian naval vessels."
But the respected Swedish daily "Svenska Dagbladet" has reported that a damaged Russian submarine is at the center of a search by Swedish boats, troops, and helicopters for an unidentified submarine that began on October 17.
The newspaper says the Swedish military had intercepted a distress signal in Russian that was sent to a naval base at the Baltic seaport in Kaliningrad.
The Swedish military has refused to comment on the newspaper's reports.
The search operation comes amid increasing tension with Russia among the Scandinavian and Baltic states over the crisis in Ukraine, where Western states have accused Russia of supplying troops and material to pro-Russian separatists and otherwise fomenting violence.
'Separatists Downed MH17'
Also on October 19, "Spiegel Online" reported that Germany's foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), has concluded unambigously that "it was pro-Russian separatists" who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine on July 19, killing all 298 people aboard.
The separatists were firing a BUK air-defense missile system that they had seized from a Ukrainian military base, the BND said.
"Spiegel" also quoted BND President Gerhard Schindler as having told a parliamentary control committee that "Russian claims that the missile had been fired by Ukrainian soldiers and that a Ukrainian fighter jet had been flying close to the passenger jet were false," in the paper's words.
It also said there were telltale signs that Ukrainian photos had been manipulated, without providing details.
"Spiegel" quoted German prosecutors as saying that a case has been opened into the shooting-down, in which four German nationals died, as a possible war crime.
Andrei Purgin, the self-styled deputy prime minister of the separatist "Donetsk People's Republic" immediately rejected the claim, saying such missiles could "only be fired by well-trained experts."
The chairman of the Russian Duma's International Affairs Committee, Aleksei Pushkov, said via Twitter that the German report shows "Russia had nothing to do" with the tragedy and did not rule out that the missile "could have been launched by Ukrainian armed forces."
Moscow: No 'Conditions'
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow will not do the West's bidding in order to have sanctions removed.
Speaking on October 19 on Russia's NTV channel, Lavrov said, "We are told, 'If you help settle the crisis in Ukraine, we will cancel the sanctions. Let us name a criteria for you -- take one step, see to it that the militia would allow monitors to the border with Russia,' and so on.'"
He said: "Our answer is very simple -- we will not fulfill or agree to any criteria or conditions."
Lavrov also accused Western powers of using the Ukraine crisis as a pretext to press Russia "to alter its approach to key, crucial issues for us and force us to accept the approach of the West."
But he called that "bygone century, bygone epoch, colonial thinking of the past."
That news came with Ukraine and Russia seemingly poised to strike a deal to ease a natural-gas dispute that has threatened to mire Kyiv and large swaths of Europe in a gas shortage with winter looming.
Russia has also sought to exert leverage over Ukraine through gas supplies.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said late on October 18 that his country will have natural gas from Russia this winter, suggesting a breakthrough in stubborn talks with senior Russian and Gazprom officials.
Poroshenko said in an interview on Ukrainian television that Russia and Ukraine must only agree on the price for that gas.
He said Russia would supply Ukraine with gas through March at a price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, down from the current prince of $485.
He also said he expected the deal to be signed when Russian, Ukrainian, and EU officials meet on October 21 in Brussels for their next round of gas talks.
The Ukrainian leader -- who met with Russian President Vladimir Putin three times in Milan on October 17 -- added that Kyiv had proposed to pay $325 per 1,000 cubic meters for gas used by Ukraine during the summer of next year.
But he said Russia was insisting on the price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters for all parts of the year.
The EU-brokered talks with Ukraine and Russia have produced a draft accord under which cash-strapped Kyiv would pay Moscow $3.1 billion in unpaid bills for already deliver gas by the end of October.
When Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in June over unpaid bills, it risked leaving not only Ukraine without heat in the winter, but that Russia could also cut off flows to Europe if Ukraine began siphoning off gas from the pipelines crossing its territory.
Russia provides about one-third of the EU's natural-gas consumption, half of which transits via Ukraine, and previous disruptions in 2006 and 2009 led to sharp increases in prices.