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Gas talks proposed for Ukraine

Invitation from EU coincides with U.S. calls to "liberate" Ukraine.

By Daniel J. Graeber

BRUSSELS, March 11 (UPI) -- An official in Brussels said Wednesday a round of trilateral talks is expected next week to resolve gas issues between the Russian and Ukrainian governments.

Gazprom in the winters of 2006, 2009 and 2014 cut gas deliveries through Ukraine briefly in response to contractual disputes with Kiev. That left downstream consumers in Europe short on natural gas supplies. The situation threatened to repeat itself last month when Russian energy company Gazprom issued payment ultimatums to its Ukrainian counterparts.

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A diplomatic source in Brussels told Russian news agency ITAR-Tass the European Commission extended invitations to the Russian and Ukrainian energy ministers "to hold talks in Brussels on March 20 on prices and terms of gas supplies to Ukraine and gas transit to the EU in spring-summer period [from April 1]."

The latest payment rows coincided with ongoing skirmishes between pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and government forces, though a mid-February cease-fire agreement is slowly taking hold in the region.

Victoria Nuland, assistant U.S. secretary of state for European affairs, testified before Senate leaders Tuesday the aim from Washington was to "liberate" a Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, from its corrupt past and move it closer to the European Union.

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While Russian influence must be diminished, Nuland added that "we need to see continued reforms at [Ukraine's state-run energy company] Naftogaz and across the energy sector."

Ukraine in February received a $17.5 billion agreement from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF said Ukraine's economy contracted by about 7 percent in gross domestic product last year. This, in turn, has taken its toll on industries and export revenue, leaving the country's financial system bruised.

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