EU officials will meet Ukraine’s energy minister on Tuesday as well as review the bloc’s own gas storage levels as fears grow that rising tensions between Moscow and Kiev might lead to a cut-off of gas supplies.
At midnight a deadline expires for Ukraine to reduce the $2.2 billion debt it owes Moscow for natural gas deliveries. So far Ukraine has offered no payments, Moscow says, raising the risk of supply disruption, with possible knock-on effects for the European Union.
Ukraine imports around half of its gas needs from Russia, and the European Union meets a third of its demand through imports from Russia, with 40 percent of that gas flowing through Ukraine.
EU officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ukraine Energy Minister Yuri Prodan would meet EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger on Tuesday.
Oettinger has been trying to broker a deal with Slovakia to allow Ukraine to receive up to 8 billion cubic metres a year in a reverse flow of gas from Slovakia.
The officials also confirmed that a meeting of the bloc’s gas coordination group would take place on Tuesday but played down its significance. They said stocks were comfortable and that the meeting was not an emergency session.
“It’s just to take stock,” one official said.
The published 2014 schedule for the gas coordination group lists meetings only for Feb. 14, May 22, Sept. 16 and Dec. 11.
The talks coincide with a deepening crisis between Russia and Ukraine.
Pro-Russia activists occupying a regional government building in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, on Monday proclaimed the creation of a separatist Donetsk republic, prompting Ukraine’s interim president to say Moscow had entered a “second stage” of operations aimed at breaking up Ukraine.
East Ukraine is one of Europe’s most important natural gas supply hubs, where Russia’s main pipelines enter Ukraine for domestic use as well as for transit to the European Union.
Also on Monday, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE said Russia had amassed tens of thousands of troops near the border with Ukraine, calling on Moscow to take steps to de-escalate the situation.