As the Asia-Europe meeting opens in Milan all eyes will be on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko who are set to meet on Friday in an effort to ease tensions over gas and the conflict in east Ukraine.
Officials from the EU and Russia say a deal is on the horizon, and the Ukrainian president expressed high expectations for the talks.
More than 300 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine in sporadic fighting in breach of a ceasefire agreed in Minsk in September. Moscow denies arming pro-Russian rebels and sending troops, though the West says there is evidence to the contrary.
The talks between Poroshenko and Putin will be hosted by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and attended by British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I expect an open discussion and progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreement,” Merkel said ahead of the talks, explaining “this progress has not yet been as obvious as was expected from the points of the Minsk agreement and so we will talk about how we can make the Minsk agreement a reality.”
The conflict in eastern Ukraine has further complicated a row over unpaid gas bills since the new Ukrainian leadership took over, following a popular uprising earlier this year. Russian gas giant Gazprom says the bills amount to almost four billion euros. Ukraine faces energy cuts this winter if no deal is reached. There would be a knock-on effect for Europe which receives a third of its gas from Russia, half of which passed through Ukraine.
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