Ukraine and Russia reach deal on natural gas supplies
BRUSSELS — Russian and Ukrainian officials reached an agreement Thursday to resume Russian deliveries of natural gas to prevent shortages during the winter months, which require large amounts of energy for heating.
The deal caps months of laborious talks under the aegis of European Union authorities on how much, and how soon, Ukraine needed to pay Russia for gas it has already consumed, and on the terms for future deliveries.
The standoff between Moscow and Kiev had also prompted concerns in Europe that Russian gas piped across Ukraine, a former Soviet state, could be interrupted.
“There is no reason for people in Europe to stay cold this winter,” José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, said at a news conference. Ukraine and Russia should “act as reliable partners,” he said.
The shuttle diplomacy reached its climax Thursday when Alexander Novak, the Russian energy minister, flew to Brussels for a signing with Yuri Prodan, his Ukrainian counterpart.
A week ago the two men were at loggerheads when Novak demanded that the European Union help Ukraine pay $1.6 billion to help cover its debts, and after Prodan demanded that Russia sign a binding agreement to sell gas until next spring at $385 per 1,000 cubic meters.
Thursday night, the ministers signed a deal guaranteeing Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine until March 2015 against a backdrop of the Russian and Ukrainian flags. A second signing took place between the chief executive of Gazprom, Alexei Miller, and his counterpart at Ukraine’s Naftogaz, Andriy Kobolev.
Barroso said the agreements also covered Ukraine’s outstanding debts to Russia.
Keeping gas flowing to homes and businesses could be critical to keeping in power in Kiev the kind of pro-Western administration favored by the United States and the European Union, which have staked enormous political and financial capital on Ukraine’s future.
But Moscow and Kiev may struggle to enforce the deal.
The Ukranian economy still is hobbling eight months after the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in the face of bloody street protests over his decision to align more closely with Russia, and pro-Russian rebels and forces allied with the government in Kiev are contesting parts of eastern Ukraine.
The main concern for the European Union was its reliance on the shipment of gas through Ukraine for about a fifth of its supplies. Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas giant, shut the taps in 2006 and 2009 because of disputes with Ukraine, leaving many homes in Central and Eastern Europe without heat and forcing rationing for industrial customers.
The current round of talks began in early May after Gazprom sharply raised the price of gas to Ukraine in March. The price had risen after Russia annexed Crimea and imposed an export tariff.