Sunday

5th Feb 2023

Putin makes nice on Ukraine at EU-Russia mini-summit

  • Putin came to the breakfast meeting after a night with Berlusconi (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Russian leader Vladimir Putin told EU leaders he wants pro-Russia rebels to make peace with Ukraine at a meeting in Milan on Friday (17 October).

Coming out of the talks, British PM David Cameron noted: “Putin said very clearly that he doesn't want a frozen conflict, he doesn't want a divided Ukraine … if that is the case, Russia has to take actions to put in place all that has been agreed”.

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EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy added: “President Putin made very clear he doesn’t want another Transniestria [a frozen conflict in Moldova] and that the Donbas region [the conflict zone in east Ukraine] is an integral part of Ukraine”.

Like Cameron, he alluded to the fact that Putin has broken promises before.

“To this effect it is essential that we ensure implementation of the Minsk agreements [a Russia-Ukraine peace deal in September] … The keyword was implementation, implementation, implementation”, Van Rompuy said.

German chancellor Angela Merkel was also sceptical.

"We are closer together on some questions of detail, but the central point is whether the territorial integrity of Ukraine is really respected," she noted.

Friday morning’s two-hour meeting of British, EU, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Ukrainian leaders took place in the margins of an EU-Asia summit in Italy.

The wobbly “ceasefire” in Ukraine has in the past six weeks seen more than 300 killed in fighting in Donbas.

Russian troops are still on Ukrainian territory and still massed on the Russia-Ukraine border, according to Nato, ever since Putin began biting off chunks of his neighbour after a pro-Western revolution in February.

For his part, French president Hollande noted that France, Germany, and Italy are ready to supply drones to the OSCE, a European multilateral body, to monitor Russian compliance with the Minsk deal.

He added that EU sanctions on Russia have hurt both sides’ economies and that the Ukraine conflict has created “doubt seen on the [international financial] markets”.

Italy’s Matteo Renzi aso indicated he wants to end the stand-off.

“We hope very much for the possibility to involve Russia in the international situation … the role of Russia could be very important in a lot of fields: [the fight against] Ebola; Isis in Iraq and Syria; Libya; and other crises”.

The two protagonists - Putin and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko - disagreed on the outcome of the talks, however.

Putin said in a Kremlin statement: “The two leaders continued to express serious differences in views on the source of Ukraine’s domestic conflict, as well as root causes for what is happening there today”.

He later told press they agreed a deal on winter gas, amid a price dispute which threatens to interrupt EU transit supplies.

But he referred to east Ukraine as “Novorossiya”, a term implying Russian territorial claims.

Poroshenko said talks on how to finance gas purchases are still ongoing: “We have a certain moderate progress in the gas issue. We have agreed on main parameters of the agreement".

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso noted there might be a deal at EU-Russia-Ukraine gas talks in Brussels on Tuesday.

He added the EU is prepared to inject more money, which can be used to pay for Russian gas, because Ukraine “has delivered on reforms”.

The EU-Asia summit brought together more than 50 leaders to discuss the global economy and climate change.

Barroso said the informal EU-Russia summit “was not overshadowing the event, it was adding”.

But Putin’s personal behaviour diverted attention from the big issues.

Media reports say he was with Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, a convicted tax fraud, until almost 4am local time on Friday before attending the 8am EU talks.

But Italy’s Renzi said the breakfast meeting had, in any case, a businesslike atmosphere.

“It was a breakfast without breakfast, nobody drank Italian coffee, nobody left their chair to share the milk, or tea, or coffee”, he noted.

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