* Russia says bill is for shortfall in volumes of gas
* Ukraine seeks to wean itself off costly Russian gas
* Dampens mood after Ukraine's landmark Shell shale deal
By Pavel Polityuk and Richard Balmforth
KIEV, Jan 26 Russia has slapped a $7 billion
bill on Ukraine for imports of gas it says Kiev was committed
to buy last year but never took, a Ukrainian energy industry
source said on Saturday.
The move by Moscow comes just days after the former Soviet
republic signed a $10 billion deal with Royal Dutch Shell
for shale gas exploration aimed at reducing Ukraine's
reliance on costly Russian gas imports.
It also handed a fresh concern to President Viktor
Yanukovich's government as it prepared to meet an International
Monetary Fund mission next Tuesday for talks on a possible new
$15 billion loan programme to help Kiev meet foreign debt
repayments this year.
"We have indeed received a bill for $7 billion," the
industry source told Reuters.
But the source said the Kiev government challenged the
calculation by Russian gas giant Gazprom and saw a
political tinge linked to Thursday's shale deal signed at the
World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Past tensions over energy between the former Soviet allies
erupted into open dispute in 2006 and 2009 causing disruption to
Russian gas flows via Ukraine to the European Union.
There was no immediate comment from Russian gas giant
Gazprom in Moscow or from Ukraine's state gas company
Naftogaz. Ukraine's government had no immediate comment either.
"In our opinion, we don't owe anything to anyone. All the
gas which we should have bought (last year) according to the
contract, we bought and have paid for," the energy industry
"It looks as if everything is linked to the signing of the
agreement with Shell in Davos," he said.
Relations between Gazprom and Naftogaz have been especially
fraught since the 2009 signing of a 10-year supply agreement
brokered by then prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
She is now serving a seven-year jail sentence for
abuse-of-office linked to the contract.
Under the deal, Ukraine currently pays about $430 per 1,000
cubic metres for Russian gas - above market price - and is also
committed to importing fixed annual volumes of gas under a
The present Kiev government of Mykola Azarov says the price
is exorbitant but has so far failed to persuade Russia to lower
Moscow has also been unsympathetic to Ukraine's calls for
agreed volumes of imported gas to be reduced.
Annual contract volumes can be changed by mutual agreement
no later than six months before the start of a calendar year.
This change should not exceed 20 percent of the original
contract volume and Ukraine is obliged to take or pay for a
minimum of 80 percent of the annual contracted volume, according
to a copy of the contract published by a Ukrainian news site in
The source said Gazprom had calculated that Ukraine's
Naftogaz had been committed to importing 42 billion cubic metres
of gas in 2012 under the supply deal.
Ukraine in fact imported 33 bcm last year, the minimum
allowed under the contract, he said.
Though most of this was by Naftogaz, a relatively small
portion of it had been bought by a private Ukrainian gas trader
which may have led to Gazprom inflating its calculations of a
shortfall, he said.
Ukraine did not regard the (Gazprom) calculation as
reliable, the source added.
The Azarov government, reshuffled following an October
election, has been hoping that its efforts to seek alternative
supplies, including tapping unconventional sources such as shale
gas, would strengthen its hand in price talks with Moscow.
Under the 50-year production-sharing agreement signed in
Davos, Shell will develop the vast Yuzivska field in the east of
Ukraine to tap into national reserves estimated at 42 trillion
cubic feet (1.2 trillion cubic metres) by the U.S. Energy
Ukrainian officials also see prospects of more shale
exploration with U.S. energy giant Chevron and offshore
exploration in the Black Sea with an ExxonMobil-led
(Editing by Jason Neely)