Europe hopes to prepare Ukraine for winter through three-party talks

An equestrian statue of Bogdan Khmelnitsky in the square of his name in front of St. Sophia's Cathedral, Kiev. © Sergey Starostenko
European Union’s energy chief Maros Sefcovic plans to visit Russia and Ukraine next month to explore the interest in trilateral energy supply talks ahead of the winter, according to the European Commission.

The talks between the two countries, brokered by the European Union, aim to reduce the risk of a gas shortage this winter.

Earlier this week, Russian energy major Gazprom warned about the risks to the transit of Russian gas to the EU through Ukraine because of the low levels currently being pumped into Ukraine's underground storage facilities.

The gas Ukraine stores is used in the winter to provide supplies to Europe. According to Gazprom, with the current level of pumping, Kiev will not be able to fill the tanks with 17 billion cubic meters - enough to guarantee the transit.

“We see the risks. Most importantly, the current daily volumes suggest they [Kiev] will not reach the level of 17 billion cubic meters. There is little time left until the autumn-winter season which starts in October,” the company’s spokesperson said, citing Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller.

The Ukrainian side has assured it would fulfill its obligations. Ukraine's national energy company Naftogaz plans to pump some 14.5 billion cubic meters of gas into the storage facilities before the heating season begins, according to CEO Andriy Kobolev.

The Ukraine’s storage facilities were filled with 11,899 billion cubic meters of gas as of August, 22, according to the data from the Gas Storage Europe organization.

Another issue raising concerns in Europe is shortage of funds in Kiev.

“The minimum gas necessary for Ukraine in the winter is 16 billion cubic meters, and the country is able to reach it with the current daily level, but Naftogaz just does not have money to buy it,” said the former spokesman of Naftogaz Valentin Zemliansky.

The Kiev-based company spent $272 million out of $300 million loaned by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on buying gas from Europe. Moreover, Kiev’s debt to the State Savings Bank of Ukraine totals some $213 million.

Zemliansky stressed that the possibility of further loans from the EU will become a key issue in the negotiations.