EU urges Ukraine to accept Russian gas offer
KYIV - Agence France-Presse
REUTERS PhotoThe EU urged Ukraine on April 1 to accept Russia's offer to extend the current gas deal with Kyiv by another three months, saying it bodes well for an agreement for next winter.
Ukraine's state energy firm Naftogaz had sought a year's extension to the current "winter package," which was sealed in October against the backdrop of Kyiv's war with pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine, and which expired at midnight on March 31.
But Russian operator Gazprom proposed extending it for only three months and Russian President Vladimir Putin endorsed the offer on March 31.
Moscow's offer was "good and welcome", said Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU that is brokering the Ukraine-Russia gas talks.
"The Commission encourages the Ukrainian authorities and Naftogaz to seize this opportunity to the largest extent possible," she said in a statement.
Itkonen said the offer would allow Naftogaz to begin replenishing its storage facilities from April 1 and "start preparing for the next winter season."
Cash-strapped Ukraine has been pre-paying for Russian gas it gets as required by the October agreement, but only in installments of a few days at a time.
The European Union receives about a third of its gas from Russia, with half that amount transiting via Ukraine pipelines.
Stocks in Ukraine, which produces some of its own gas and receives other supplies from eastern Europe, amounted to 7.7 billion cubic metres on March 31, according to Gaz Infrastructures Europe.
But EU officials say Russian gas imports are needed to replenish reserves to the level of 20 billion cubic metres, the quantity necessary to secure both supplies for Ukraine and the transit of gas to EU countries through next winter.
Talks between Russia, Ukraine and the European Union are set to resume in Berlin in mid-April.
The EU last month had set June as a target for a new deal lasting until the winter of 2015-2016, but Itkonen said the Russian interim offer was "a positive signal" for the ongoing three-way talks.