MOSCOW/KIEV – Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich postponed talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday at which they had been expected to try to resolve a gas pricing dispute.
Kremlin foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov told reporters Yanukovich would not meet Putin as planned later on Tuesday because more time was needed to prepare documents they had planned to sign.
The price of Ukraine's gas imports from Russia is a bone of contention between the two countries which has in the past led to reductions in the supply of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine's pipeline network.
"Yanukovich had planned to visit today and it has been decided to delay this visit," Ushakov said. "It is necessary to conduct additional expert work to complete all the documents which we had initially planned to sign."
"For this we need a certain amount of time, after which we will agree a new date for his visit," he said.
Ushakov said Yanukovich would also not attend a meeting this week of a customs union planned between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Ukraine has observer status but is not a member.
"The meeting will be conducted without observers," Ushakov said.
There has been no sign of the tensions that prompted Russia to cut supplies to Kiev during price rows in 2006 and 2009, a move that led to disruption of flows to other markets in Europe because Russian gas exports go through the pipelines in Ukraine.
But Kiev is struggling to afford its fuel bill to Russia under the current terms, which stem from a 2009 agreement over which Ukraine's former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, was jailed on charges of abuse of office.
Kiev says the price of $430 per 1,000 cubic meters it is paying this quarter is too high, but it has balked at demands for big concessions to Moscow to achieve a reduction, which could include joining the planned customs union.
"On the agenda of the meeting between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine were the issues of bilateral cooperation, above all in the energy and trade areas - in particular, working out a mutually acceptable way for Ukraine to interact with the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan," Yanukovich's office said in a statement.
(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk and Olzhas Auyezov, Writing by Melissa Akin, Editing by Timothy Heritage)