* Ukraine called off EU partnership deal last week
* Ukraine, EU leaders to meet in Vilnius on Thursday, Friday
(Adds Lithuanian minister, paragraphs 4-6)
By Natalia Zinets and Christoph Steitz
VILNIUS/BERLIN, Nov 28 Ukrainian and Slovak
authorities are in "very constructive negotiations" and could
sign a reverse-flow pipeline deal next week to curb Ukraine's
dependence on Russian gas, officials from Kiev and Brussels
European Commission officials and Ukraine's energy minister
said earlier this month a deal to ship gas through Slovakia was
all but agreed and just needed to be signed by both sides.
Since then, Kiev has said it is not ready to sign a broader
deal with Europe called the Eastern Partnership, a four-year-old
programme of outreach to former Soviet states.
But officials said the pipeline agreement was still
possible, which would mean that companies can change the
destination of Russian gas intended for the EU.
"We are discussing all details in a bid to sign next week,"
Ukrainian Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky told Reuters in
The first shipment of gas from Europe via the Slovak link
could take place in the second half of next year, he added.
European Energy Commissioner Oettinger said the deal was not
complete but that "very constructive negotiations" continued,
when he was asked about the pipeline agreement on the sidelines
of an industry conference in Berlin.
Brussels has a keen interest in strengthening ties with
Kiev, whose gas price disputes with Russia's state-controlled
Gazprom have disrupted supplies to Ukraine and the
Along with the talks on a wider political partnership, EU
officials have been seeking to convert Ukraine from a transit
state for Russian gas into an energy hub.
Under this plan, Ukraine would develop its own shale gas
reserves and ship gas to and from the 28-country European Union
with the help of pipelines in both directions and reverse flow.
Ukraine is torn, however, between pressure from Russia to
stay within its orbit and popular domestic clamour to throw in
its lot with the EU.
Talks in Lithuanian capital Vilnius beginning on Thursday
between Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and EU leaders are
expected to be frosty.
Energy analysts say a reverse-flow agreement can still be
reached regardless of wider politics.
"The Slovak reverse flow is just a regulatory deal which
will be resolved," said Jonathan Stern, chairman and senior
research fellow from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
"The question is how much gas is on offer. I tend to think
more like 2 to 3 billion cubic metres (rather than the 5 to 10
bcm that some have mentioned) - useful but not definitive."
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev and Barbara
Lewis in Brussels; Writing by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Dale
Hudson and Jane Baird)