Ukraine, Russia near deal to avoid gas cutoff

 

After a meeting in Berlin this weekend, officials may have found the solution for Ukraine's natural gas debts to Russia, averting a potential energy cutoff.

A top European Union official said if Ukraine's top gas company agrees to pay $2 billion to Russia's state-controlled Gazprom this week and start talks on prices for future natural gas deliveries, Moscow would continue to supply energy to Kiev.

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The Associated Press reports EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said the countries' ministers must still get political leaders and the gas companies involved to sign off before an agreement is finalized.

Ukraine and Russia have until Wednesday evening to approve the deal.

Oettinger said the countries are not done, but remained hopeful an agreement would be reached.

The proposal would require Ukraine's Naftogaz to make the $2 billion payment to Gazprom immediately on Thursday to settle part of Ukraine's bills for natural gas supplies delivered from November through March.

Once the payment is made, Russia said it will hold EU-brokered talks in Berlin on Friday with Ukraine on the price of gas that was delivered in April and May and in future months, Oettinger told reporters, according to the AP.

The second payment would be $500 million on June 7. Also, Gazprom would supply gas for June without requiring prepayment, the EU said.

But Yuri Prodan, Ukraine's energy minister, remained wary of a final deal.

"So far there is not yet a decision taken, and I also assume that from the Russian party no decision has been taken yet," Prodan said. "It was a suggestion by the European Commission to be discussed."

Ukraine's total gas debt to Russia is $3.5 billion.

The stranglehold on Ukraine has put pressure on the U.S. to act more quickly in expediting natural gas exports to non-Free Trade Agreement countries.

A number of lawmakers continue to press for legislation that would fast-track exports on Capitol Hill, but have yet to hold a vote in either chamber.