A long-simmering dispute over natural gas supplies between Russia and Ukraine officials ended Thursday, as negotiators from the two countries and the European Union have agreed on a deal to resume Russian gas supplies to Ukraine. The two countries have faced growing international pressure to reach an agreement, and the reported deal comes just in time for the chilly winter, when gas for heating is needed the most. A news conference scheduled for Thursday night at the Brussels headquarters of the European Commission is expected to formally announce the deal, sources told Reuters.
“Apparently we have a deal,” said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, according to Reuters. Alexander Novak, Russian energy minister and head of the nation’s largest gas producer, was quoted by Russian news agencies saying he hoped all the necessary documents would be signed at the evening meetings. Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuri Prodan was quoted as saying, “In all likelihood, all the documents will be signed today,” Reuters reported Thursday.
Earlier this month, leaders from Russia and Ukraine reached a preliminary agreement on a price for winter gas supplies of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters. A week later, Russian and Ukrainian energy officials met in Brussels with the European Union’s energy commissioner to discuss an accord that would see Moscow resume gas supplies to Kiev over the winter. Russian negotiators said a deal depended on firmer EU commitments to help the Ukrainians pay the bill, according to Reuters.
Russia first halted gas flows to Kiev in June after the ex-Soviet country failed to pay energy bills worth more than $5 billion. The move added to existing tensions spurred by Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region and the Russian-backed revolt in the east.
Concerns were raised across Europe that Russia could similarly choke off supplies to other countries in retaliation for Western sanctions against Moscow. In September, Russia slashed nearly half its natural gas exports to Poland, according to a Warsaw-based state gas company. Europe receives about one-third of its gas supplies from Russia, about half of which is piped through Ukraine. U.S. and European economic sanctions on Russia, coupled with a fall in the global price of oil, have increased the incentive for Moscow to resolve the pricing row with Ukraine.