BRATISLAVA, May 19 (Reuters) - A pipeline to transport gas to Ukraine via Slovakia should be ready for pumping at full capacity starting in September, the head of Slovakia's pipeline operator said, which would help provide some gas if Russia cuts supplies.
EU member Slovakia and Ukraine signed a deal at the end of April that allows the European Union to send a limited amount of gas to Ukraine, less than Kiev had hoped for to cushion the blow should Russia turn off the gas.
"With 90 to 95 percent probability, we should be able to ship 8 to 10 (billion cubic metres) per year already as of Sept. 1, depending that certain technical preconditions are met on both the Slovak and Ukrainian side," said Tomas Marecek, chairman of Eustream, the Slovak pipeline operator.
The company wants to evaluate bids for booking the pipeline's capacity by the end of June, Marecek said, although initial bids will be for less than full capacity and instead for flows that Eustream will be certain it can transport.
To help meet its annual consumption of about 55 billion cubic metres (bcm), Ukraine had been pushing to get up to 30 bcm by reversing flows on pipelines that are currently being used to import Russian gas into Slovakia. The Slovak government opposed such a move because of worries over contracts.
Under the current deal, Slovakia will make technical adjustments to an old, unused pipeline.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday the agreements between Ukraine and Slovakia did not violate agreements with Russia's state-controlled firm Gazprom .
Gazprom has warned it will not supply Ukraine with gas from June unless Kiev pays at least $2.237 billion out of a debt of over $3.5 billion. (Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Writing by Jason Hovet; editing by Jane Baird)