BRUSSELS (AFP) – Russia, Ukraine and the EU began crunch gas talks on Tuesday to resolve a bitter price dispute and end fears that Moscow could halt crucial energy supplies to Europe this winter.
The high-stakes meeting between Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, his Ukrainian counterpart Yuri Prodan and European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger began as planned, a commission spokeswoman said.
“We had bilaterals with both sides and a trilateral meeting will start very soon,” spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said.
“It’s not possible to say when the talks will end,” she added.
Russia in mid-June cut supplies to Ukraine, demanding the new pro-Western government in Kiev pay steeply increased prices up front for any new deliveries after it ran up what Moscow says is an unpaid bill of $5.3 billion (4.1 billion euros).
That supply cut heightened concerns that Europe, which gets about a third of its gas from Russia of which about a half transits via Ukraine, could be badly affected by the dispute this winter.
But hopes for a deal improved after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reached a preliminary deal at an EU summit last week in Milan.
According to Poroshenko, the agreement due to be completed in Brussels will see Ukraine meet Russia’s demands and pay $385 per 1,000 cubic metres of gas for deliveries guaranteed through the end of March.