Russia, Ukraine reach long-sought agreement on winter gas supplies

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BRUSSELS — Russia and Ukraine ended months of uncertainty and finally reached agreement Friday on supplies of natural gas to Ukraine for the coming winter, a high-ranking European Union official announced.

Maros Sefcovic, the EU Commission vice president for energy union, said the deal in talks he brokered assured that Ukraine would receive Russian gas for six months ending in March 2016.

The uncertainty over Russian gas supplies has taken place against the backdrop of the wider conflict between Moscow and Ukraine. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and a pro-Russian armed insurgency continues in parts of eastern Ukraine, with Ukraine and NATO accusing Moscow of backing and supplying it.

Past gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine have led to cut-offs of supply, and one standoff in 2009 caused serious disruptions in shipments of Russian gas to EU countries as well.

Last winter, Russia and Ukraine struck an emergency deal on gas prices, but it subsequently expired. EU-sponsored talks seeking a similar accord for the coming winter began in March.

The new deal was initialed in Brussels by Sefcovic, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Ukrainian Energy Minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn. Demchyshyn said some procedures remained before a formal signing could take place, but that one should occur shortly.

"All technical details are agreed, and the framework is set," Sefcovic said. He said the Russians committed themselves to lowering the price charged Ukraine to the same "competitive level" granted neighboring countries, from $251 per 1,000 cubic meters to $232, via a cut in export duties.

For its part, Ukraine agreed to inject 2 billion cubic meters (2.62 billion cubic yards) of Russian gas into underground storage sites on its territory to help stockpile supplies for EU countries.

Novak, the Russian energy minister, said the agreement should ensure millions of people in Ukraine and the EU "securely spend the winter."

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