Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Poroshenko are due to meet on the sidelines of the EU/Asia summit in Milan today to try to find a way out of the Ukraine crisis.
Germany’s Angela Merkel and French President Hollande will also meet the pair as part of a four-way contact group. The Kremlin has just said Putin and Merkel have “serious differences”.
Although Putin announced this week that Russian forces near the border with Ukraine would be pulled back, Western officials want to see clear evidence that Moscow is withdrawing troops and military equipment from east Ukraine. The Ukrainian and Russian presidents spoke by telephone on Tuesday and discussed measures to restore peace.
The other big question is whether gas supplies to western Europe from Russia, via Ukraine, will continue unchecked through the winter. Any interruption would deal another blow to already struggling EU economies. On Thursday, Putin threatened to cut gas supplies to Europe if Ukraine steals from the transit pipeline to cover its own needs.
Russia cut off supply to Ukraine in June over what gas exporter Gazprom said were billions of euros in unpaid bills. There is concern Ukraine might have to siphon off gas from flows crossing the country en route to Europe this winter. EU stress tests published on Thursday showed the European Union could intervene to prevent gas shortages in the event of disruption to flows from Russia.