* 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
(Adds Naftogaz confirmation)
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, Ukrainian energy industry
sources and state company Naftogaz 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 was also a fresh concern for President Viktor
Yanukovich's government as it prepared to meet an International
Monetary Fund mission on Tuesday for talks on a possible $15
billion loan programme to help meet foreign debt repayments this
"There is such a ($7 billion) bill," Naftogaz spokeswoman
Elena Yurieva was quoted by UNIAN news agency as saying.
But she and other Ukrainian industry sources said Naftogaz
considered it had already met all its financial obligations to
Russia's gas giant Gazprom for 2012. "We paid on time
for all the natural gas delivered to us by Gazprom," she told
A separate Ukrainian energy industry source said the move
from Moscow was likely 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 comment from Gazprom in Moscow or from the
"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
source told Reuters.
"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 industry 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
(Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Jason Webb)