Russia-Ukraine gas summit ‘long overdue’, says EU (Lead)

January 15th, 2009 - 11:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Kiev/Brussels, Jan 15 (DPA) High-level talks between Ukraine and Russia over their gas dispute are “long overdue”, the European Union (EU) said Thursday as it prepared to send a delegation to Saturday’s planned summit in Moscow.”The EU presidency and the European Commission consider that high-level discussions between Russia and Ukraine on this issue are long overdue,” commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said in Brussels.

And while the EU was ready to send its energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, and Czech Energy Minister Martin Riman to Moscow, its representatives would only participate in the meeting on the provison that the Russian and Ukrainian leaderships are “fully mandated to find a lasting solution” to the stand-off, Laitenberger said.

The Czech Republic, as the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, has been playing an active role in trying to mediate between Moscow and Kiev.

With Russian gas via Ukraine still not flowing to Europe by Thursday afternoon, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko agreed earlier in the day to hold face-to-face talks in Moscow.

The telephone discussion between the two was “productive” and “gives hope for the development of a compromise,” according to a statement from Tymoshenko’s office.

Russia and Ukraine have been at a stand-off since Jan 1 over natural gas delivery terms. A Kremlin embargo on gas shipments to Ukraine has been in effect for three weeks, and on transit shipments to Europe for eight days so far.

Putin reportedly rang Tymoshenko in response to a Wednesday request by the Ukrainian prime minister that they speak directly by phone.

The pair are due to discuss a possible resolution to the energy deadlock between the two countries, and a renewal of natural gas deliveries to Europe, the statement from Tymoshenko’s office said.

EU officials have since confirmed that the meeting is expected to take place in Moscow.

The Ukrainian statement gave no reason for Tymoshenko’s turnaround.

It simply said that the Ukrainian government “immediately after the prime ministers’ conversation” sent the Russian government a telegram repeating a long-held Ukrainian position that Ukraine will guarantee the delivery through its pipelines of all Russian natural gas earmarked to Europe, with the exception of 8 percent of volume according to Ukraine needed to maintain sufficient pressure in the lines.

Ukraine further would guarantee payment to Russia in full for the 8 per cent of volume taken by Ukraine, as soon as a contract is in place regulating the price of Russian gas exports to Ukraine, the telegram read in part.

The 8 percent cut of Russian gas deliveries to Europe proposed by Kiev to go to Ukraine is vehemently opposed by the Kremlin, whose officials have accused Ukraine of stealing Russian gas and blocking its shipments to Europe by faking problems with pipeline pressure.

The lack of a contract between Russia and Ukraine regulating natural gas shipments into Ukraine has been at the root of the present crisis, with both Kiev and the Kremlin manipulating energy deliveries to Europe in an attempt to wring better contract terms out of their opponent.

Officials in Brussels confirmed Thursday that no Russian gas was yet flowing through Ukrainian pipelines and renewed their appeal for supplies to resume “immediately.”

“All of this has gone for too long,” Laitenberger said, adding that Saturday’s meeting should not be used as an excuse for further delays.

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