PARIS - Russia and Ukraine have agreed on a gas delivery deal through the end of March, despite the conflict over pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The agreement Monday ensures the two countries will fulfill a "winter package" of Russian natural gas for Ukraine, which runs out at the end of the month. Both sides had previously threatened to back out of the deal, which put in jeopardy gas supplies to the European Union.
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, who chaired the talks, said the energy ministers of Russia and Ukraine also agreed to discuss a "summer package" of gas supplies later this month. He said he is "reassured that the supply of gas to the EU markets remains secure."
The two sides agreed Monday that Ukraine would not have to pay for energy delivered to rebel-held areas - a major point of contention between the countries.
Speaking to reporters before the talks, Commission energy spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen said the European Union wanted the terms of a winter gas agreement between Russia and Ukraine to be respected.
"We are only urging both parties to respect the ...package. This is our position. This is why we have convened both parties to come to Brussels to discuss that there can be a solution," said Itkonen.
At issue is a tangled dispute between Russia and Ukraine over prepayments for gas and deliveries to rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine. Commission spokeswoman Itkonen said the situation in the region makes it difficult to send EU monitors to verify things first hand.
"Which has led to a situation that we do not have all the information. And that is why we are very happy to see both parties here to discuss and then to try to find a solution," stated Itkonen.
Moscow has cut off gas supplies to Ukraine on several occasions, most recently last June over a dispute over pricing and unpaid bills. It restored deliveries in December. Similar cutoffs in 2006 and 2009 also disrupted Russian deliveries to the European Union. About 40 percent of EU gas comes from Russia, with about half piped through Ukraine.
The gas talks in Brussels come as Secretary of State John Kerry said he was "very hopeful" talks in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would help end the fighting in Ukraine.