KYIV - Ukraine expressed readiness to settle its gas bill with Russia, saying it would pay $4 billion by the end of May. Deputy Energy Minister Ihor Didenko made the announcement Thursday, adding that Kyiv used $268.5 per 1,000 cubic meters as the base price to calculate the amount.
Speaking at a news conference in Kyiv, Didenko said that the payment will be made if the price is fixed at $268.5.
He also said Ukraine planned to import from Russia 3.4 billion cubic meters of gas in May. Russia is currently asking Ukraine to pay $485 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, the highest price it charges any European customer.
Russian President Vladimir Putin urged European Union leaders on Thursday to do more to help Ukraine through its economic crisis and said Moscow was ready for consultations with Europe over Kyiv's gas debts. At the same time Putin insisted that, starting in June, Russia will deliver gas to Ukraine only if it pays in advance.
Ukrainian Finance Minister Oleksandr Shlapak said that it was Russia’s turn for concessions.
“We believe Ukraine has already made many concessions in the gas area, it is now time for Russia to make concessions,” Shlapak said at the EBRD's annual meeting in Warsaw. “The gas price has remained astronomically high.”
Moscow and Kyiv reaching a compromise would reduce the threat of a shut-off of Russian gas exports to Ukraine that could affect supplies to other parts of Europe.
EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said he was optimistic that the gas row could be resolved by the end of the month.
Sectoral sanctions possible
The United States and its European allies found broad unity on Thursday that Russia should face sectoral sanctions if the Kremlin tries to disrupt Ukrainian elections later this month, a senior U.S. official said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry briefed foreign ministers from Germany, France, Britain and Italy on U.S. thinking about possible sanctions, which would cover some of Russia's largest sectors including mining and gas.
“All ministers, led by Secretary Kerry, underscored that a free, fair election across Ukraine, including the east, on May 25 is absolutely essential,” a senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters in London.
The U.S. and Europe urged Russia on Thursday to refrain from any actions that could prevent this month's presidential election from going ahead peacefully, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. He added that Western foreign ministers had agreed Russian behavior towards the election would determine whether Moscow would face additional sanctions.
Billionaire Petro Poroshenko is crystallizing as a clear frontrunner in Ukraine's May 25 presidential election, and could win in the first round of voting, a new poll found.
The 49-year-old confectionery magnate, who has previously served as foreign minister and economy minister, could garner the support of 54.7 percent of voters, a survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found. More than 50 percent of votes are needed for an outright win.
Poroshenko, who actively supported the pro-Europe protests which ousted Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in February, is trailed by former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko with 9.6 percent, down from 14 percent a month ago, and several other candidates with single-digit support.
Insurgent bases destroyed
Meanwhile, Ukraine's acting president said the army has destroyed two military bases of pro-Russian insurgents.
Oleksandr Turchynov told Ukraine's parliament Thursday troops destroyed an insurgent military base outside the eastern town of Kramatorsk in one overnight operation. In another, troops obliterated a separatist base in the nearby town of Slovyansk. Turchynov said troops also had control of a television tower in Slovyansk.
Insurgents have seized government buildings across eastern Ukraine, fought the Ukrainian military and declared "sovereignty" in two eastern regions.
A senior separatist commander in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region has threatened attacks on Ukrainian military checkpoints if they are not withdrawn on Thursday, according to a Facebook video.
In the 30-minute clip Sergei Zdrilyuk warns he has covert groups already in place. The video was posted on the Facebook page of rebel official Pavel Gubarev.
Zdrilyuk set 9:00 pm local time as a deadline.
Rebels have issued similar ultimatums in the past but none resulted in any significant follow-up.
Ukraine launched talks Wednesday on national unity without the participation of the pro-Russian separatists, who are seeking autonomy from Kyiv in the country's east and southeast.
The talks, which opened 11 days ahead of Ukrainian presidential elections, are part of a "road map" plan backed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Analysts say deliberately omitting separatists from the discussions raises doubts about whether the meetings will ease ethnic tensions threatening to rip the country apart.
Separatists have dismissed the Kyiv talks.
No formal annexation request
Moscow has received no formal annexation request from separatists in Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk following self-rule referendums last weekend, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Following votes in Donetsk and Luhansk regions on May 11, the pro-Moscow separatist leader in Donetsk reportedly asked for the Russian Federation to consider “absorption” of the region.
Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said he has not heard about an official request having been received.
The votes in Donetsk and Luhansk seemed to mimic a poll held in March in Ukraine’s Crimea, which Moscow subsequently annexed.
Putin support in Russia soars
Eighty-one percent of Russians would be ready to vote for Vladimir Putin if presidential elections were held now, a poll found.
According to a survey by Levada research group, Putin’s approval rating has been steadily rising over the past months. It stood at 77 percent in April and 68 percent in January.
The spike coincides with the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine.
Presidential elections in Russia are not due until 2018. Should Putin, 61, decide to run and prevail, he would serve a fourth non-consecutive term since originally coming to power in 2000. He has not ruled out another run.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.