"We welcome the progress achieved in the talks between the representatives of the Russian Federation and Ukraine announced this morning in Moscow. However, we remain realistic," said Czech Minister for Trade and Industry Martin Riman.
He added that "the only thing that counts for the EU is the resumption of gas supplies. For the time being, it is not clear when this resumption will take place".
As the holder of the rotating EU presidency, Riman represented European nations at a Moscow 'gas summit' at the weekend, which was not attended by a single EU head of state (EurActiv 16/01/9). In fact, the summit was boycotted by all EU countries except Slovakia. The European Commission was represented by its Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, although Moscow had invited Commission President José Manuel Barroso to attend as well.
At the summit, the European Union spoke with one voice, said Riman, who added: "I believe that this message of unity also contributed to making both parties resume talks promptly."
Putin and Timoshenko emerged from a one-to-one meeting with the Russian host announcing that the transit of Russian gas through Ukraine may resume shortly.
Few details of the agreement have emerged, but the Russian press reported that the Ukrainian side had agreed to pay full market prices for the Russian gas it imports, with a 20% rebate for 2009 if Kiev sticks to last year's favourable gas transit fees. The two sides also apparently agreed to eliminate intermediary companies, such as RosUkrEnergo.
If confirmed, these terms appear worse for Kiev than those agreed a year ago, which were later rejected by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. Last year, Kiev was offered a price of $250 for 1000 cubic metres of gas, a level which would go up to $360 under this weekend's agreement. Yushchenko may therefore again veto the deal.
Reuters: Russia won
A Reuters analysis says that on all accounts, Russia appears to have won the 19-day gas dispute with its neighbour. As a result of the crisis, Russia has shown that it does not mind angering the West in order to advance its own agenda.
If the deal holds, Gazprom will earn billions of dollars of extra revenue in coming years, more than making up for what it lost at the start of this year. Gazprom projects such as South Stream and Nord Steam now look more assured (see related Links Dossier).
Putin has won domestically, where he is praised as the strong leader the country needs. As for Ukraine, its reputation with the EU has taken a big hit, Reuters further writes.
Bulgaria signals 're-start' of nuclear units
Meanwhile, the gas crisis has encouraged some European countries to seek other sources of energy.
Bulgaria said it will start technical preparations to re-open one of its shut nuclear reactors at Kozloduy if the gas crisis continues. But it will only do so with the EU's consent, the country's Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev said on Friday. Earlier, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov had suggested re-starting one of the units, closed in December 2006 as a condition to the country's accession to the EU (EurActiv 07/01/09).
"The government decided to start technical preparations to re-open one of its shut nuclear plant reactors if the gas crisis continues over an unforseeable period of time," Stanishev told journalists. Preparations will take about 45 days, he added.
Slovakia had previously indicated it would restart a nuclear reactor which was recently shut down in accordance with its EU accession treaty (EurActiv 12/01/09), but has since reversed that decision.