* Russia proposes April 28 for Moscow meeting
* Talks aimed at preventing cut off of gas to Ukraine
* Europeans prepare to pump more gas to Ukraine
(Combines stories on meetings in Bratislava and Moscow)
By Barbara Lewis and Vladimir Soldatkin
BRUSSELS/MOSCOW, April 23 European and Russian
officials will meet this week and next for emergency talks to
try to prevent Moscow cutting off gas supply to Ukraine, as
Europe explores how to pump more gas to the struggling country.
Moscow has nearly doubled the natural gas price it charges
Ukraine and threatened to cut gas supplies for non-payment of
debt since a new pro-Western government took over in Kiev in
It has also annexed Ukraine's Crimea region and voiced
support for pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of
government buildings and set up road blocks in parts of eastern
The talks next week are another attempt to bring Ukraine and
Russia to the negotiating table as a previous agreement struck
in Geneva last week to de-escalate tensions between the two
The preparations for negotiations follow calls from
Ukraine's acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, for government
forces to relaunch an offensive against pro-Russian rebels.
In the first round of talks on Thursday, the European
Union's top energy official, Guenther Oettinger, will meet
Ukrainian and Slovakian ministers in Bratislava to seek a deal
on shipping gas to Ukraine via Slovakia.
Russia will not attend that meeting. However, it said it
would host talks in Moscow on Monday, bringing together Ukraine
Energy Minister Yuri Prodan, Oettinger and Russian Energy
Minister Alexander Novak to discuss gas pricing for Kiev.
"We sent a letter to Oettinger proposing to hold the talks
in Moscow on April 28," a spokesperson for the Russian Energy
Ministry told Reuters.
The European Commission, the EU executive, has not confirmed
where or when any meeting with Russia would take place, though
it has said it is willing to take part in such talks.
"Today, EU Energy Commissioner Oettinger has invited the
Russian Energy Ministers Novak and the Ukrainian Energy Minister
Prodan for a first meeting for trilateral consultations, but the
date and place are not fixed yet," a Commission spokeswoman
She confirmed Thursday's talks in Bratislava, which follow
months of preparation to reverse the flow of gas through
Slovakia to help Ukraine in the event of a halt in supplies.
"The Commission is confident that the Memorandum of
Understanding on reverse flows can be signed as soon as possible
between the two pipeline operators in Slovakia (Eustream) and in
the Ukraine (Uktransgas)," the spokeswoman said.
TURN OFF TAPS
Russia's seizure of Crimea has caused the most serious
East-West rift since the end of the Cold War.
The European Union and United States have imposed sanctions,
mostly in the form of visa bans and asset freezes on a number of
At the same Russia has warned that gas supplies to Ukraine
could be cut and that this could in turn lead to a reduction of
onward deliveries to Europe.
Russia provides Europe with roughly one third of its gas
imports, over half of which flowed via Ukraine last year, and
delivers around half of Ukraine's domestic gas needs.
Moscow, which does not recognise the Ukrainian government
that replaced ousted President Viktor Yanukovich in February,
nearly doubled the gas price for Ukraine to $485 per 1,000 cubic
metres, starting from April. Kiev, which is in deep financial
trouble, is refusing to pay.
Russian state-controlled gas producer Gazprom says
Kiev owes it $2.2 billion for gas already delivered and is
considering demanding up-front payments, increasing the risk of
Russia turning off the taps.
Prodan said on Wednesday that Kiev had sent Moscow its gas
price suggestions but that there had been no response yet. He
would not specify the suggested price. Ukraine's officials have
previously said they were ready to pay $386 per 1,000 cubic
The EU has been working on developing technology to ship gas
back to Ukraine in the opposite direction to that for which the
pipelines were designed.
The most significant such channel would be through Slovakia,
but talks had repeatedly failed to get a deal.
Slovak government officials said Thursday's outline
agreement was expected to cover smaller flows than Ukraine
wanted as Slovakia sought legal advice on a bigger project.
Russia has said reversing flows of its gas would be illegal.
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Additional reporting by Pavel
Polityuk in Kiev and Jan Lopatka in Prague; Writing by Barbara
Lewis and John O'Donnell; editing by Keiron Henderson, David
Stamp, Anna Willard and Will Waterman)