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EU-brokered Ukraine-Russia gas talks postponed

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(BRUSSELS) - A new round of EU-brokered gas talks in Brussels aimed at settling a gas dispute between Ukraine and Russia have been postponed, officials and sources said on Thursday.

The meeting with ministers from Kiev and Moscow was due to have been hosted by the European Union's energy commissioner in the Belgian capital on Thursday or Friday.

But a European source told AFP that now "there will not be a trilateral meeting until at least the end of the weekend."

Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan, in Brussels for a conference on Friday, would still meet EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger to prepare for "the next trilateral gas talks for which a date and place have not been scheduled yet," the source added.

The last round of talks was in Berlin on September 26.

Russia froze natural gas deliveries to Ukraine in June in a dispute over payments, against a backdrop of five months of conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels that has cost more than 3,200 lives.

"We were ready to met on Friday, but it is the EU who said that they could not take part on that day," Olga Golant, a spokeswoman for the Russian energy ministry, told AFP.

"We will announce the new date as soon as it is fixed."

After the Berlin talks, Oettinger said a compromise deal would see Russia ship at least 5.0 billion cubic metres of gas to Ukraine over a six-month period in exchange for an early payment of $3.1 billion (2.4 billion euros).

But Russia said the $3.1 billion would be used to cover a $5.3-billion debt Ukraine incurred last year due to both its financial problems and a refusal to pay the higher rate, and it would eventually also have to pay for the new gas.

Ukraine then backed away from the deal in recent days, vowing to keep fighting over both the gas price and Moscow's claim that Kiev owed it billions of dollars in debt.

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