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EU brokers Russia-Ukraine gas deal amid mild optimism over truce

Russia and Ukraine have agreed a deal that will ensure Kyiv receives gas until the end of the month, after Moscow threatened to cut off supplies. Meanwhile, leaders expressed mild optimism about the Ukraine ceasefire.

A deal was finally struck after tense talks in Brussels late on Monday, effectively securing the gas supply to Ukraine and the European Union until the end of the winter.

The two countries have had several gas price disputes in past years, with Moscow's threat to turn off the taps to Ukraine also placing supplies to the European Union in jeopardy. Russia had been threatening to shut off the pipeline on Tuesday unless it received outstanding prepayments from Kyiv for the fuel.

A European Commission statement said both sides had confirmed their intention to "fully implement" a deal agreed in October. The agreement saw Moscow promise to deliver gas to Ukraine until the end of March, provided the prepayments arrive.

"I am satisfied that we managed to safeguard the full application of the winter package for the supply needs in Ukraine," said EU energy chief Maros Sefcovic after mediating the emergency talks between Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Demchyshyn.

Sefcovic said he was also confident that the "supply of gas to EU markets remains secure," with the Ukrainian energy company Naftogaz and Russia's Gazprom having struck a deal over payment.

Ukraine Separatisten Panzer bei Donetzk

Ukraine itself had threatened to cut off gas to the rebel-held areas

The sides agreed to leave the gas supply to rebel-held areas of Luhansk and Donetsk - described as "highly complex in legal, technical and political terms" - out of the talks.

The EU receives about a third of its gas from Russia, much of it through Ukraine.

'Some progress, more needed'

Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande. The parties agreed that "progress has been made, but the situation must be improved further," according to a French presidency statement.

Poroshenko's office has formally appealed to the UN and EU for peacekeeping troops to be sent to the disputed area.

Before the leaders spoke, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met for talks in Geneva. Both agreed that implementation of the deal struck in Minsk on February 15 was on the right track.

'Cherry picking' of Minsk truce

Kerry, however, said there had been "a kind of cherry-picking, a piecemeal selectivity to the application of the Minsk agreements."

Although fighting has been broadly halted along the front line in eastern Ukraine, an incident of shelling over the weekend claimed the life of Ukrainian photojournalist Sergiy Nikolayev. Eight government soldiers were also injured by rebel fire, with Kyiv claiming one of its soldiers had been killed.

Although both sides have begun their withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line in accordance with the truce, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has said it is too early to confirm whether a full pullback has taken place.

The UN said on Monday that more than 6,000 people have died in Ukraine in less than a year since all-out fighting in the eastern regions began.

rc/bk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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