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EU confident of winter gas deal, despite Russia warning

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The European Union is confident that a deal can be reached with Russia and Ukraine at talks next week to avoid gas shortages this winter, energy commissioner Guenter Oettinger said on Thursday - PHOTO: REUTERS

[Brussels] The European Union is confident that a deal can be reached with Russia and Ukraine at talks next week to avoid gas shortages this winter, energy commissioner Guenter Oettinger said on Thursday.

Oettinger also said the latest round of talks between Russia, Ukraine and the EU scheduled next Tuesday would now take place in Brussels, not Berlin as planned, and that he would travel to Kiev on Monday.

The German's comments came as he unveiled energy "stress tests" to show how the EU would cope if Russia, the 28-nation bloc's biggest gas supplier, disrupts supplies over tensions with Ukraine.

Moscow cut off gas shipments to Kiev in June amid violence between pro-Kremlin rebels and Ukrainian government forces, and has threatened to block the EU too if countries deliver gas to Ukraine.

"A deal is achieveable, thanks to the preparatory work and the will of each party," Oettinger said of next week's talks.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin made the latest in a series of similar threats when he warned, several hours after Oettinger's remarks, of "major transit risks" to European gas supplies this winter.

The proposal on the table would see cash-strapped Kiev settle 3.1 billion dollars (2.4 billion euros) of unpaid bills with Russian state gas giant Gazprom, with two billion dollars paid before the end of October, in exchange for a resumption of supplies.

Oettinger said the stress tests, which were based on the scenario of a six-month halt in supplies from Russia, showed supplies for EU nations could be guaranteed, with the bloc's reserve capacity currently 90 per cent full.

But eastern European nations, which are especially dependent on Russian gas, could lose up to 60 per cent of their supplies, he said, adding: "This means that households might have to do without heating," the European Commission said. AFP