Russia and Ukraine to hold gas talks

The negotiations on a new contract Russian natural gas supplies to Ukraine would be held in October-December of the year, Russia's Prime Minister said Friday, according to the Itar-TASS news agency.

Russian and Ukrainian ties have warmed since pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych was elected prime minister in 2006. The vote had been preceded by a gas price dispute that saw Moscow temporarily shut off supplies to its ex-Soviet neighbor.

Observers said the shutdown, which briefly halted supplies to Europe as Kiev skimmed the gas it needed from an export pipeline, had been aimed at weakening support for president Viktor Yushchenko ahead of the vote.

After defeating Yanukovych in presidential elections in 2005, Yushchenko had pledged to take Ukraine out of Moscow's orbit and closer to Europe.

"The tendency has been set in earlier agreements. We are cooperating, concluding contracts, we know how to agree," Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said Friday.

Last year Yanukovych reached an early agreement with Russia on gas prices for 2007, with Kiev pledging to pay US$130 (EUR99) per 1,000 cubic meters. That is 40 percent more than Ukraine paid in 2006, but barely half the price Russia is charging other ex-Soviet republics.