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European energy commissioner plans to organize another round of three-party gas talks

LONDON, June 18. /ITAR-TASS/. The European Commission wants to organize another round of three-party gas talks, involving Ukraine and Russia, by mid-July, European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told Reuters on Tuesday.

According to Oettinger, the European Commission hopes to find a solution to the gas problem during the summer, when there is enough gas in storage and the demand is low.

"No doubt we are in a sensitive situation. We are in June, so it's not really urgent today, but it's my concern and my ambition to use the summer time (to solve this crisis)," he said.

He also said he planned to talk to Ukraine in the coming days to try to organize bilateral talks next week. After that, he said he would speak with Russia to arrange another round of three-party talks by mid-July.

Oettinger said the European Union did not wish to block the South Stream project to supply Russian gas to south-eastern Europe across the Black Sea bottom bypassing Ukraine. However he said that the project had to respect EU laws.

The last round of gas talks on Monday ended to no avail. So, in full compliance with the contract in force, Gazprom switched Ukraine to pre-payment system as Kiev had failed to repay U.S. $1.951 billion in debt by 10.00 Moscow time. After that, only gas contracted by European consumers has been pumped via Ukraine.

Speaking about the failure of the latest talks, the European energy commissioner noted that those talks had taken place on the background of the tense political situation. “I think at the end of negotiations, Russia was not thinking to be a little bit more flexible," he said.

The subject matter of three-party gas consultations, involving the European Union, Russia and Ukraine, has been exhausted, Russian Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller told a news conference on Monday. “We were meeting [the Ukrainian side] halfway at the request of the European Commission, postponing the date for switching Naftogaz of Ukraine to a pre-payment system,” Miller said. “In fact, Naftogaz reckoned it was possible to indefinitely take gas in the amounts it wanted. The whole logic of negotiations, which the Ukrainian side tried to impose, was to get a super-low price at the level Russia sells gas to the countries of the Customs Union [of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan].”

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, for his part, said Gazprom could return to consultations on future supplies and on the pre-payment system as soon as Ukraine paid off its debt.