* Ukraine president to visit Turkmenistan Feb 12-14
* High price of Russian gas is drag on Ukraine economy
KIEV Feb 8 The supply of Turkmen gas to Ukraine
will be on the agenda during a visit to Turkmenistan next week
by Ukraine's president, whose government is struggling to reduce
its dependence on expensive Russian gas.
President Viktor Yanukovich's visit will take place on Feb.
12-14, his office said on Friday. Ukrainian Foreign Minister
Leonid Kozhara, who travelled to Turkmenistan last month to
prepare the visit, has said gas will be discussed.
Turkmenistan used to sell gas to Ukraine in the late 1990s
and early 2000s, shipping it through Russian pipelines. But
since 2009, Ukraine has been buying the fuel only from Russia's
The price of Russian supplies has been rising steadily,
becoming a burden on the state budget and the economy, because a
2009 contract between Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftogaz linked it
to global energy prices.
Finding another supplier could be a quick solution for
Ukraine, but only if Kiev and Ashgabat agree on a price and
Moscow allows such shipments.
Ukrainian officials say that a new free trade agreement
signed last year by the Commonwealth of Independent States, a
club of ex-Soviet republics, obliges Russia to allow shipments
of Turkmen gas to Ukraine at competitive rates.
But Moscow has yet to comment officially on the idea.
According to oil and gas firm BP, Turkmenistan's
natural gas reserves are equal to those of Saudi Arabia and are
smaller only than those of Russia, Iran and Qatar.
But the landlocked nation must transport gas to Europe
through Russia, although it has two other export pipelines going
to China and Iran.
So far, Ukraine has failed in its attempts to renegotiate
the Russian deal. It reduced imports from Russia last year, but
that strategy backfired last month when Moscow sent Kiev a $7
billion bill for the gas it had refused to buy, citing a "take
or pay" clause.
Although Ukraine has said it will not pay the bill, it is
certain to shift the focus of the talks with Moscow, leaving the
country with what it call exorbitant monthly gas bills.
For the long term, Ukraine is trying to diversify its energy
sources by tapping its potentially large shale gas reserves and
building a liquefied natural gas terminal on the Black Sea, but
both projects will take years to implement.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Richard Balmforth and