EU-Backed Ukraine-Russia Talks Aim to Avoid New “Gas Wars”

Moscow and Kyiv officials are set to gather in Berlin on Tuesday for EU-backed talks on the future of the transit of Russian gas through Ukraine in a bid to minimize disputes when the current contract expires next year, RFE/RL reports.

Russian gas giant Gazprom has already dramatically reduced the volume of gas transiting via the country, as Moscow and Kyiv remain at loggerheads over the annexation of Crimea and simmering conflict in the east of Ukraine.

The meeting will bring together delegations from Gazprom and its Ukrainian counterpart Naftogaz, which have been locked in legal battles for years. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin will also be present.

“It is clear that time is of the essence. The negotiations that lie ahead of us are complex,” said European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic ahead of the talks.

The meeting will focus on Gazprom’s plan to construct and put into operation by the end of next year the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which would bring gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine.

The pipeline will follow the track of the existing Nord Stream 1 and will double the amount of Russian gas arriving in the European Union’s most powerful economy via this route. Kyiv fears the loss of revenue from transit taxes, on top of being bypassed politically as well as physically by new gas pipes.

Germany has long insisted this is a purely “commercial” project and in March lifted the final obstacles to its construction. But the following month German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered an unexpected blow to Moscow’s strategic initiative, insisting Ukraine should continue to play a key role in the transit of gas to Europe.

The project has also been criticized by U.S. President Donald Trump. The United States has an interest in selling shipped liquified natural gas (LNG) to Europe, but for the moment this is much less economically viable than Russian gas.

“So we will be selling LNG and competing with the pipeline. I think we’ll compete successfully. Although there is a little advantage location-wise,” Trump said after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Tuesday.

Another project, the Turkish Stream pipeline, is further set to reduce the role of Ukraine in gas transit.

But Putin was conciliatory, saying Russia was ready to keep up transit via Ukraine after Nord Stream 2 becomes operational and extend the transit agreement.