24 April 2014, News Wires – European and Russian officials will meet this week and next for emergency talks to try to prevent Moscow cutting off gas supply to Ukraine, as Europe explores how to pump more gas to the struggling country, according to a report.
Moscow has nearly doubled the natural gas price it charges Ukraine and threatened to cut gas supplies for non-payment of debt since a new pro-Western government took over in Kiev in February, Reuters reported.
It has also annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and voiced support for pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of government buildings and set up road blocks in parts of eastern Ukraine.
The talks next week are another attempt to bring Ukraine and Russia to the negotiating table as a previous agreement struck in Geneva last week to de-escalate tensions between the two neighbours unravelled.
The preparations for negotiations follow calls from Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, for government forces to relaunch an offensive against pro-Russian rebels.
In the first round of talks on Thursday, the European Union’s top energy official, Guenther Oettinger, will meet Ukrainian and Slovakian ministers in Bratislava to seek a deal on shipping gas to Ukraine via Slovakia.
Russia will not attend that meeting. However, it said it would host talks in Moscow on Monday, bringing together Ukraine Energy Minister Yuri Prodan, Oettinger and Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak to discuss gas pricing for Kiev.
The European Commission, the EU executive, has not confirmed where or when any meeting with Russia would take place, though it has said it is willing to take part in such talks.
“Today, EU Energy Commissioner Oettinger has invited the Russian Energy Ministers Novak and the Ukrainian Energy Minister Prodan for a first meeting for trilateral consultations, but the date and place are not fixed yet,” a commission spokeswoman said.
She confirmed Thursday’s talks in Bratislava, which follow months of preparation to reverse the flow of gas through Slovakia to help Ukraine in the event of a halt in supplies.
“The Commission is confident that the Memorandum of Understanding on reverse flows can be signed as soon as possible between the two pipeline operators in Slovakia (Eustream) and in the Ukraine (Uktransgas),” the spokeswoman said.
Russia provides Europe with roughly one third of its gas imports, over half of which flowed via Ukraine last year, and delivers around half of Ukraine’s domestic gas needs.