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World Putin set to meet Western leaders on Ukraine at Milan gathering

Russian President Vladimir Putin reviews a guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony in Belgrade on Oct. 16, 2014.

DARKO VOJINOVIC/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Russian President Vladimir Putin is mounting a diplomatic blitz on the sidelines of a summit of European and Asian leaders in a bid to escape Russia's worst crisis with the West since the Cold War.

Putin on Friday will discuss Ukraine over breakfast with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and key European leaders on the sidelines of the 10th ASEM summit in Milan. He may also meet privately with Poroshenko.

The West has imposed a series of economic sanctions against Russia since its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March and its support for a pro-Russia insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she expects to discuss a Ukraine ceasefire deal signed last month, which has reduced hostilities but failed to stop all fighting.

"It is above all Russia's task to say clearly that the Minsk plan is really respected," Merkel said as she arrived for the summit. "Unfortunately, there are still very, very big shortcomings. But it is important to seek dialogue here."

Merkel will meet Putin later Thursday.

Putin, in Belgrade en route to Milan, said he hoped to resolve a gas pricing dispute between Russia and Ukraine during the talks.

Much of the Russian gas supplied to the EU passes through pipelines crossing Ukraine, and Putin warned that Russia would cut supplies intended for Europe if Ukraine siphons off gas intended for Europe, as it did in 2008.

"Russia always has been a reliable supplier. But there are big transit risks," Putin said.

Two members of the feminist group Femen protested Putin's inclusion in the summit, baring their breasts as they demanded an end to bloodshed in Ukraine.

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The two-day ASEM summit, which aims to forge closer economic and cultural ties and confront common threats, opens against the backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine, student protests in Hong Kong and escalating concerns about the Ebola outbreak.

The biannual gathering will also touch on natural disaster response, international crime, terrorism and climate change.

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