KIEV (Reuters) - Russia, the European Commission and Slovakia may hold talks with Ukraine on Thursday on a possible solution to the country’s gas crisis, Ukraine’s Energy Minister Yuri Prodan said.
Prodan told reporters on Wednesday that Moscow and the European Union had suggested the ministerial meeting, which would be held in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.
Russian state-controlled gas producer Gazprom says Kiev owes it $2.2 billion for gas already delivered and is considering requiring advance payments for further supplies, increasing the risk of Russia turning off the taps.
“There is a proposal from the Russian side and the European Union to hold four-way talks,” Prodan said. “As of today, a meeting in Bratislava of four ministers is being considered ... but so far there is no confirmation from the European Commission.”
Kiev has been seeking ways to import gas from the West should Moscow, with which it is in conflict over the annexation of Crimea and a rebellion in eastern Ukraine, halt supplies.
This includes the possibility of “reverse flows”, in which EU countries such as Slovakia would send gas back down pipelines normally used to carry Russian supplies through Ukraine to the West.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged EU leaders to discuss Russian gas supplies via Ukraine to Europe, where Russia meets almost a third of gas demand, a proposal to which the EU agreed to last week.
Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine has set off the most serious East-West rift since the end of the Cold War, resulting in EU and U.S. sanctions, mostly in the form of visa bans and asset freezes for several Russian officials.
The crisis has also raised fears that gas supplies flowing to several European countries via Ukraine could be disrupted.
Moscow, which does not recognize the Ukrainian government which replaced ousted President Viktor Yanukovich in February, nearly doubled the gas price for Ukraine to $485 per 1,000 cubic meters, starting from April. Kiev, which is in deep financial trouble, refused to pay.
Prodan said that Kiev had sent to Moscow its gas price suggestions, but there had been no response yet. He would not specify the suggested price. Earlier, Ukraine’s officials said they were ready to pay $386 per 1,000 cubic meters.
Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Writing by Lidia Kelly in Moscow; editing by Keiron Henderson and David Stamp