EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, the broker for crunch gas talks between Ukraine and Russia, said Tuesday that an overall agreement to avert a gas supply cut-off could take days to be reached.
“Maybe in next days, not tonight,” Oettinger said in response to a question as he arrived at the European Commission headquarters for more talks with energy ministers from Ukraine and Russia.
The outcome of the EU-brokered negotiations are being closely tracked as a possible sign that the worst East-West stand-off since the Cold War is easing.
In a statement, the Commission said that Ukraine, Russia and EU would sit down together only on Wednesday, after an evening of bilateral talks.
“Since the Russian delegation will arrive very late in Brussels Tuesday night, the (trilateral) talks … on energy security will be resumed Wednesday in the morning,” the statement said.
Marathon negotiations between Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak and Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan broke up early on Tuesday when the two ministers left to confer with their governments on next moves.
News agency reports in Russia said Novak met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin to apprise him on where the negotiations stood.
The decision to resume talks comes on the eve of a Russian deadline for Ukraine to cover a debt Moscow says stands at $4.5 billion (3.3 billion euros) or have its shipments end on Wednesday.
At talks earlier this month, all sides agreed that as long as they continued, there would be no Russian gas cut-off.
Ukraine has refused to pay the gas bill in protest at Russia’s decision to nearly double the price in the wake of the February ouster of Kremlin-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych after months of pro-EU protests.
About 15 percent of Europe’s gas from Russia transits through Ukraine — a dependence that EU nations have been trying to limit ever since Moscow turned the taps off in similar disputes in 2006 and 2009.
Analysts expect the two sides to agree to a new price of around $350 (260 euros) per thousand cubic metres of gas — about halfway between Russia’s old rate and the one set after Yanukovych’s replacement by a pro-Western government in Kiev.