MILAN – Vladimir Putin will take centre stage at an Asia-Europe (ASEM) summit that opens on Thursday in Milan, where the Russian leader due to hold face-to-face talks with Ukraine counterpart Petro Poroshenko.
The ASEM headline theme is promoting economic cooperation between more than 50 countries who share one of world's largest trading relationships.
On that front, however, there are mounting problems – Europe's recovery has stalled and China, for so long the driver of global growth, is losing momentum.
Much of the attention will be on the summit margins, especially Putin's breakfast meeting on Friday with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko to review a battered ceasefire Kiev agreed in early September with pro-Moscow rebels.
To improve the mood music, as he has done before previous meetings, Putin earlier this week announced a troop withdrawal from the Ukrainian border.
The European Union and the United States acknowledged the news as positive but also reminded the Russian president that sanctions remain in place until Moscow stops meddling in Ukraine completely.
The mood hardened again on Wednesday when Putin accused US counterpart Barack Obama of a hostile attitude towards Russia and warned against "attempts to blackmail" Moscow.
Putin is also due to meet in Milan with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Malaysia was traumatised by the loss of a second MAS plane in months and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot has been threatening to confront Putin at an upcoming G20 meeting.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev laughed off that threat on ednesday, saying that judo black-belt Putin was unlikely to be scared of Abbot, a keen amateur boxer in his youth. — AFP