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Russia–Ukraine gas talks in Berlin postponed

EU-brokered talks on gas security in Berlin have been rescheduled because too many issues remain open, the EU officials say. Ukraine is a crucial transit country for supplying western Europe with gas.

A ministerial meeting on gas deliveries between Russia and Ukraine, planned for next week in the German capital, will not take place, the European Commission announced Friday.

"The parties will meet in Brussels at technical level during next week instead," the EU executive arm said in a statement.

The planned meeting is a part of EU-brokered talks which began on March 20. They aim to ensure the gas supply from Russia to Ukraine during the next winter, as well as onward supplies to Europe.

Half of Russian gas arriving through Ukraine

After the last round of negotiations, the European Commission sent a questionnaire to both countries. Not all questions had yet been answered, the Commission said in a statement, and too many issues remain open.

However, European Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maros Sefcovic expressed optimism concerning the talks.

"I am confident that expert talks will prepare the ground for the next meeting at political level, which is foreseen to take place still in April," he said in a statement.

Deliveries from Russia account for about one-third of gas demand in the European Union, with half of that amount arriving to EU members via Ukraine.

Deal until June

Tensions between Moscow and Kyiv are running high over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where a shaky ceasefire between pro-Russian rebels and government troops is currently in effect.

In Kyiv, a Ukrainian government source told AFP news agency that "the Russian side refused to be part of these negotiations in Berlin on April 13 so they won't take place."

"The Russians finally refused without giving a reason," the source said.

Last week, Ukraine agreed on a deal with Russian energy giant Gazprom, securing low-price gas delivery until the end of June. However, the talks over supplies for the next winter are expected to be more difficult.

Ukraine itself is heavily dependent on Russia for its energy supply, and the government in Kyiv is pushing for a new deal with lower gas prices. Moscow has in the past threatened to cut off gas to Ukraine over payment issues.

Gas and 'hybrid wars'

Earlier on Friday, the chief executive of Ukraine gas operator Naftogaz, Andriy Kobolev, told reporters in Brussels he would meet Commission officials to discuss Ukraine's need for $1.5 billion (1.4 billion euros) in funds from foreign banks or institutions to buy six billion cubic meters of gas.

Kobolev was speaking from NATO headquarters which he said he would visit regularly to keep those officials updated because "the overall situation is quite difficult and gas and energy was always one of the elements of hybrid wars" waged by Russia.

The EU hopes for a deal which would ensure stability until late 2016, when an international arbitration panel in Stockholm is due to rule on the gas dispute between the two sides.

dj/kms (AFP, dpa)

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