* Pipeline would let EU export more Russian gas back to
* Deal could help bring about historic Ukraine-EU pact
* Slovakia link would add to Hungarian and Polish reverse
(Updates with Ukrainian confirmation, adds background)
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Nov 19 Pipeline operators in Ukraine
and Slovakia are on the verge of signing a deal that will allow
the European Union to ship gas through Slovakia to Ukraine,
reducing Kiev's dependence on Russia, the European Commission
and Ukraine said on Tuesday.
The pipeline flow agreement could also help to bring about a
historic partnership agreement between the EU and Ukraine, which
both Russia and the EU are vying to tie into their respective
spheres of influence.
Asked whether a deal was about to be signed, Ukraine's Fuel
and Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky told Reuters: "Yes, no
European Commission spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said: "We
consider that we are very close to a deal ... The content of the
deal has been agreed, whereby the gas will flow from West to
East through Slovakia to Ukraine. It's just a matter of signing,
which should be in the next few days."
The reverse flow deal should be the climax of more than a
year of talks brokered by EU Energy Commissioner Guenther
The gas would be shipped by physical reverse flow, through
existing, unused pipelines, plus a small section of pipeline to
be built next year.
The EU has a keen interest in strengthening ties with
Ukraine, whose gas price disputes with Russia's state-controlled
Gazprom have disrupted supplies to both Ukraine and
the EU. If Ukraine meets the EU's conditions, it looks likely to
sign agreements on trade and other forms of cooperation with the
EU in Vilnius on Nov. 29.
However, Russia has made very clear that it wants Ukraine to
join a Russian-centred free trade zone with Belarus and
Kazakhstan instead, saying it fears a loss of competitiveness
for its goods.
The European Union for its part has been courting Ukraine
with the idea it could become a gas hub, rather than just a
transit state that depends on a dominant supplier: Russia.
Since late last year, technology allowing pipeline flows to
be reversed has allowed Ukraine to re-import some Russian gas
back from EU nations, notably from Hungary, and from Germany via
While Gazprom is far from happy about its gas being
re-exported back to Ukraine, there is little it can do because
EU law allows it, and Gazprom makes much of its reliability in
never having broken a contract with the EU.
Reverse flow through Slovakia is more helpful to Ukraine
because volumes would be higher.
But it is also politically sensitive in Slovakia, which is
reluctant to annoy Russia, its main gas supplier, and wants to
be certain that it will not be left short if a prolonged cold
spell boosts demand and depletes reserves.
A spokesman for Slovakia's gas pipeline operator Eustream
said late on Monday that Eustream was cooperating with its
Ukrainian partners but could not disclose details until a deal
(Additional reporting by Martin Santa in Brussels, Pavel
Polityuk in Kiev, Michael Kahn in Prague; Editing by Kevin