World

Kremlin dismisses EU hopes of Ukraine progress

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meets with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, right, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, bottom left, and French President Francois Hollande, in Milan, Italy, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

MILAN: European leaders expressed hope Friday of solving the bloody Ukraine conflict following "positive" talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, only for the Kremlin to berate them as out of touch with reality.

Less than half an hour after host Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had said he was "really positive after this meeting," Moscow shot back that some of Putin's interlocutors had got it completely wrong.

"Unfortunately, some participants ... demonstrated complete unwillingness to understand the reality in southeastern Ukraine," the state RIA Novosti news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

"There are plenty of disagreements, plenty of incomprehension," Peskov said, conceding only that the talks would continue.

Peskov's comments were in sharp contrast to Renzi's upbeat account of the early morning meeting between Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the leaders of Britain, France and Germany.

British Prime Minister David Cameron also echoed Renzi's view that the talks were positive, noting Putin had "said very clearly that he doesn't want a frozen conflict and he doesn't want a divided Ukraine."

In that case, Cameron warned, it was up to Putin to prove it, otherwise tough Western sanctions against Russia would have to stay in place.

Further talks between Putin, Poroshenko, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were scheduled for later Friday, French officials said.

"There has been no breakthrough yet," Merkel cautioned.

Putin had looked relaxed and smiled broadly as he arrived for Friday's meeting, just hours after he had warned he could pull the plug on crucial Russian gas supplies to western Europe this winter.

Adding to the negative mood music, the Kremlin had then said that a meeting between Putin and Merkel that ran into the early hours Friday revealed "serious differences" over Ukraine.

More than 3,600 people have died in fighting in eastern Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in March, with an early September cease-fire and peace accord signed in Minsk by Kiev and pro-Russian rebels proving highly tenuous.

A string of European leaders emphasised that it was primarily up to Russia to ensure the Minsk agreements were implemented.

The diplomatic exchanges over Ukraine took place on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe (ASEM) summit completely overshadowed by a crisis which has also claimed Asian victims.

Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte met Putin to demand "maximum cooperation" with an investigation into the July shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, which cost nearly 300 lives, more than half of them Dutch.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, whose country had 38 citizens or residents on board, also raised the issue with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, saying Moscow "has not been as cooperative as we would have expected."

Ukraine apart, the most notable feature of the summit was the presence of Thai junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha, attending his first global gathering since grabbing power in a May military coup which the E.U. condemned.

In a sign that the international community appears to have accepted that Prayut will be around for some time to come, he was granted a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Officials said the Japanese premier had told the former general that massive Japanese investment in Thailand could be at risk, over time, if he did not restore democracy and eliminate the risk factor caused by political instability.

The summit was also marked by a symbolically significant handshake between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

The brief encounter raised hopes of an easing of recent tensions between the East Asian powers but the small step in Milan was quickly overshadowed by a new row over the past as China reacted angrily to a mass visit by Japanese lawmakers to a controversial war shrine in Tokyo.

The ASEM summit brings together more than 50 member states who share one of the world's largest trading relationships at a time of growing uncertainty over the economic outlook which has badly spooked the financial markets.

The next summit, due in 2016, will be held in Mongolia.

 

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