Italy's Eni in wait-and-see mode on Russia's roubles for gas scheme-sources

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The logo of Italian oil and gas group Eni is seen on the facade of its headquarters in Rome, Italy, December 23, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

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MILAN, April 28 (Reuters) - Italian energy group Eni (ENI.MI) has yet to make a decision regarding the payment scheme Russia has introduced for buying its gas and is waiting for clarity on whether it amounts to a breach of sanctions, three sources said on Thursday.

In March Russian President Vladimir Putin said the world's largest natural gas producer would require countries he termed unfriendly to pay for fuel in roubles.

Under the new Russian payment system, buyers deposit euros or dollars into an account at Gazprombank, which would then convert them into roubles, place them in another account owned by the foreign buyer and transfer the payment in Russian currency to Gazprom.

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"Eni has not yet made any application to open an account and is waiting for the political picture to be clarified," one source familiar with the matter said, asking not to be named because the source was not authorised to speak to the press.

But unless there is clarity soon, the company would have to press ahead with payment in euros for May delivery or risk being in breach of contract, the source added.

EU energy ministers are meeting on Monday to discuss the situation, which has divided member states.

Russia's Gazprom (GAZP.MM) cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland on Wednesday after they refused to pay in roubles, and it threatened to do the same to others.

On Thursday, Germany's Uniper (UN01.DE) told the newspaper Rheinische Post it would transfer payments for Russian gas to a Russian bank and no longer to a Europe-based bank.

Eni, which is 30% controlled by the state, is one of Europe's biggest buyers of Russian gas with long-term contracts that expire in 2035. Last year it imported some 30 billion cubic metres of gas from Gazprom.

A source at the office of Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Italy was waiting for the European Union to come up with a common position.

The European Commission said last week that if buyers of Russian gas confirmed payment was complete once they had deposited euros, as opposed to later when the euros have been converted to roubles, that would not breach sanctions.

Another of the sources said Italy still had time as Eni's next round of payments for May gas supplies fall due after the middle of the month.

Eni and the government declined to comment.

Italy gets some 40% of its imported gas from Russia and has been looking to diversify its energy sources since the invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi has travelled with Italian ministers to producer countries, including Algeria, Angola and the Congo Republic to secure alternative supplies.

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Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; editing by Barbara Lewis

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