EU seeks mid-April talks with Russia, Ukraine on gas

By Barbara Lewis and Geert De Clercq BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission is aiming to broker more talks between Russia and Ukraine this month to try to extend a discount on gas prices for Kiev, Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said on Wednesday. Russia, Ukraine and the European Commission held preliminary talks in Brussels last month. After that opening round, Sefcovic said he had written to Russia and Ukraine, and was aiming for further three-way discussions in the middle of April. He told reporters a questionnaire included with the letter had raised a series of issues including Gazprom's take-or-pay clause, which obliges Ukraine to buy volumes of gas even when it does not need them. The most recent gas deal between Russia and Ukraine expired on Tuesday and Sefcovic said he was hopeful more favorable terms could be negotiated for Kiev. On Tuesday, TASS news agency reported Russia would extend gas price discounts for Ukraine into the second quarter, but any further decisions would be taken in three months' time and depend on the price of oil. Last year, Russia cut off gas to Ukraine because of a dispute over unpaid bills. Gas flows resumed after a deal was brokered by the Commission, which has a strong interest in ensuring supplies to Ukraine as it is the main transit route for Russian gas to the European Union. The EU is striving to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, which accounts for some 30 percent of EU supply, and is developing a route known as the Southern Corridor to ship in Azeri gas as well as fuel from other non-Russia suppliers. Sefcovic said he hoped eventually gas from Iraq and Iran could help to ensure security of EU gas supply, especially following any deal with Iran to rein in its nuclear program. Negotiators from six world powers and Iran are meeting in Switzerland to try to hammer out an outline atomic accord. (Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Crispian Balmer)