BRATISLAVA, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Ukraine should be able to avoid severe gas disruptions this winter despite prolonged talks with Russia over a supply deal that has delayed the filling of storage tanks, the European Union’s energy chief said on Monday.
Tensions between Russia, Europe’s biggest gas supplier, and Ukraine, the main transit route to the EU, have been high since Moscow’s seizure of Crimea in March 2014.
Data from Gas Infrastructure Europe showed Ukraine’s gas storage tanks were a little more than 53 percent full, up from about 46 percent around the same time a year ago.
“Due to prolonged negotiations Ukraine has faced some delays in filling their gas storages but they have improved energy efficiency and have several options for diversification of supplies,” said Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president for energy.
“I believe they will get through the winter without any major problems.”
In September, Russia, Ukraine and the European Commission initialled a deal to secure gas supplies for Kiev just days ahead of the start of the winter heating season. Delays had stoked concern Ukraine would not be able to fill its storage tanks before temperatures began dropping and demand rose.
Sefcovic said the Commission viewed a deal to secure winter gas supplies for Ukraine as valid despite a lack of signatures because all parties had agreed to the package.
The agreement took effect when Ukraine started paying for gas and Russia started making deliveries, Sefcovic told an energy conference in Bratislava.
“The European Commission considers the agreement valid, it is being enforced. No further steps are needed as all parties (that took part in negotiations) consider the ‘winter package’ as valid,” Sefcovic told an energy conference in Bratislava.
“It came into force the day Ukraine’s Naftogas started paying for gas and Russia’s Gazprom started shipping.”
A spokeswoman for the Russian Energy Ministry agreed no further steps for implementation of the winter package were needed.
Under the initialled accord, which runs from Oct. 1 until the end of March next year, Kiev commits to buying 2 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas from Gazprom, financed with $500 million provided by international financial institutions.
A 10-year contract between Russia and Ukraine was reached in 2009 after a previous price dispute led to supply cuts to Ukraine and a subsequent dwindling in volumes for the EU.
The cut-offs to Ukraine in 2014 and this year have not so far led to knock-on supply disruptions and the Commission has said it expects Ukraine to remain a reliable transit route. (Wrtiting by Michael Kahn, Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova and Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Mark Potter)