Ukraine and Russia have signalled there could be progress in settling a festering row over gas supplies after three meetings between the nations in the space of ten hours.
The meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko in Milan on Friday, the first since the two sides agreed a ceasefire in Crimea last September, raised hopes of an EU-backed resolution of the broader conflict embroiling the Soviet-era allies.
Any optimism, however, was tentative, as both leaders drew the line at saying an agreement had been formalised.
“We have some certain progress (on the gas issue) but left some details which need to be discussed,” Poroshenko said after the final meeting, which was the first time the two men had met alone since August last year.
|From Rory Challands, Al Jazeera’s Russia correspondent:|
“Vladimir Putin seemed in a particularly jovial mood when he met the press in Milan on Friday evening.
Sometimes the Russian president can be reserved and curt, but here he was, holding forth and cracking jokes with journalists to such an extent that it lead to one Russian saying the president was being unusually salty for such an event.
So what had happened during his meetings with Petro Poroshenko, Angela Merkel, and the other leaders assembled in the northern Italian city? No dramatic breakthrough on stopping fighting in Eastern Ukraine, it seems.
There was more talk of pushing forward the 12 points of the Minsk agreements and enforcing a separation line between Ukraine’s army and the rebels, but nothing the Europeans could point to as success. But then, maybe that suits Putin just fine.
It was the gas issue that moved forward most. Russia feels it has got the basis for a deal to resume Ukraine’s supply at least through the winter, and, in another possible reason for Putin to be cheerful: Europe, he says, will probably have to cough up the billions needed to help Ukraine out because there is no way Kiev has $4.5bn it needs going spare.”
He added that he hoped a deal could be done at or before already-scheduled talks in Brussels next week.
“Before October 21, we hope to find a solution for the energy question,” he said.
In a press conference on Friday, Putin confirmed conditions for a deal had been reached that would mean Russia continued to supply Ukraine with gas “at least for the winter” but said the EU and EC “could and should” help Ukraine meet its financial obligations to Russia in paying for the gas supplies.
French President Francois Hollande had earlier described a gas deal as “within reach,” after a meeting attended by himself, Putin, Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
EU-brokered talks with Ukraine and Russia have produced a draft accord whereby cash-strapped Kiev would pay $3.1 billion (2.4 bn euros) in unpaid bills to Moscow by the end of October, with a new contract to cover subsequent deliveries.
Putin threatened earlier this week to cut supplies completely if no agreement was reached.
On the issue of a ceasefire in the wider conflict, Putin reiterated previous statements that Russia is “not party to this conflict”.
The Russian president said that the situation in Ukraine could only be resolved by relying on agreements reached earlier this year in Minsk.
“These agreements are unfortunately not being observed by either party: neither the representatives of the militia nor Ukrainian representatives are so far fully observing these agreements,” he said.
“I presume that all parties will try to make sure that these agreements are fulfilled,” he said.
The ceasefire agreement, reached on September 5 in the Belarusian capital between representatives from Kiev and members of Ukraine’s pro-Russia supporters, was a nine-point deal that included establishing a buffer zone, and a prisoner exchange between the two sides.
Russia accounts for around one third of the EU’s consumption, half of which transits via Ukraine, and previous disruptions, in 2006 and 2009, led to sharp spikes in prices.