Brussels: Russia, Ukraine and the EU began crunch gas talks on Tuesday to resolve a bitter price dispute and end fears that Moscow could halt crucial energy supplies to Europe this winter.
The high-stakes meeting between Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, his Ukrainian counterpart Yuri Prodan and European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger began as planned, a commission spokeswoman said.
"We had bilaterals with both sides and a trilateral meeting will start very soon," spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said.
"It`s not possible to say when the talks will end," she added.
Russia in mid-June cut supplies to Ukraine, demanding the new pro-Western government in Kiev pay steeply increased prices up front for any new deliveries after it ran up what Moscow says is an unpaid bill of $5.3 billion (4.1 billion euros).
That supply cut heightened concerns that Europe, which gets about a third of its gas from Russia of which about a half transits via Ukraine, could be badly affected by the dispute this winter.
But hopes for a deal improved after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reached a preliminary deal at an EU summit last week in Milan.
According to Poroshenko, the agreement due to be completed in Brussels will see Ukraine meet Russia`s demands and pay $385 per 1,000 cubic metres of gas for deliveries guaranteed through the end of March.
The new price is 20 percent lower than the figure Moscow charged Ukraine after it cancelled a discount offered to former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.
In the draft accord, cash-strapped Kiev would pay $3.1 billion (2.4 billion euros) in unpaid bills to Moscow by end-October, with a new contract to cover subsequent deliveries.
In Milan, Putin implied a deal was close but urged EU governments to help finalise the complex funding package required for Ukraine to afford the deal.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in Bratislava on Monday also said EU members states should do their part.
"Everyone must contribute, including Slovakia," Merkel told reporters in the Slovak capital.
"We`re looking for a solution now, we don`t have one yet and winter`s already coming," she said.