Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko told her Russian counterpart on Thursday that her country is ready to discuss a new pricing scheme for its natural gas imports from Russia, based on market principles.
"We have grounds for negotiating market prices," Tymoshenko told Vladimir Putin during talks at his residence outside Moscow.
She said that the issue is more pressing now that fall has arrived, bringing an annual rise in consumption and a consequent danger of new gas supply disputes.
In 2008, Ukraine is paying $179.5 per 1,000 cu m of gas it imports from Russia. However, Alexei Miller, CEO of Russian energy giant Gazprom, earlier said the price could rise to $400 from 2009 as producers in Central Asia, whose gas Russia re-exports to Ukraine, plan to raise their prices to European levels.
Tymoshenko earlier said she would try to secure a price of less than $400 for 2009, while negotiating a long-term contract with Russia to be signed by late October.
Putin said experts have prepared the groundwork for talks on midterm supplies.
He noted that their meeting is taking place against a backdrop of political turbulence in Ukraine, and that "question marks will be put" on many agreements. "But we hope issues of vital importance will not be reviewed," he added.
Ukraine faces an early parliamentary election, its third since pro-Western President Viktor came to power on the back of the 2004 "orange revolution," if a new ruling coalition is not formed this month replacing the "orange" alliance that collapsed in September.
Tymoshenko had to delay talks with Putin today after President Viktor Yushchenko decided to use her plane at short notice.
Yushchenko`s press service said the plane flying him to Lviv, western Ukraine, had returned to Kiev early on Thursday due to technical difficulties, and that the president took a "reserve" plane, which happened to be the one set to carry Tymoshenko and her delegation to Moscow.
The premier and her aide had to take a charter plane, while ministers and pool reporters were left waiting for other flights. Tymoshenko`s press secretary said: "the governmental delegation was deliberately cut off from the prime minister."
Yushchenko and Tymoshenko were allies during the 2004 street protests, but have since been constantly at odds.