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    Kiev, Moscow could switch to direct gas supplies - official

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    KIEV, March 1 (RIA Novosti) - Ukraine and Russia could start talks on direct natural gas supplies without the involvement of the intermediary firm that currently regulates supplies, a Ukrainian deputy prime minister said Thursday.

    Commenting on an earlier statement made by a senior Gazprom official and echoing a prevailing sentiment in Ukraine since Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych came to power in August, Andriy Kluyev said: "Talks on the issue are not under way at the moment, but the issue could be raised at a joint interstate commission meeting or at government-level talks soon."

    RosUkrEnergo, which is 50% owned by Russia's Gazprom [RTS: GAZP], has been the sole supplier of Russian and Central Asian gas to Ukraine since January 2006, when the two countries resolved their bitter pricing row that led to a brief suspension of gas supplies to the ex-Soviet state and affected consumers in Europe.

    Kluyev, who is also secretary of the political council of the Party of Regions led by the largely pro-Russian premier, told reporters the talks could start in March without specifying the date.

    Asked whether the move could lead to a rise in the price for natural gas supplies, Kluyev said the government's policy was "to maintain the current price, avoiding any increases."

    Ukraine currently pays $130 per 1,000 cubic meters under a deal signed between RosUkrEnergo and UkrGazEnergo, a joint venture set up by Ukraine's former national oil and gas company Naftogaz in October 2006. The deal was signed following Yanukovych's visit to Russia in late September.

    Russia had initially demanded $230 per 1,000 cubic meters from Ukraine, as part of its drive to bring energy prices to former Soviet allies to average market rates.

    Ukraine's outspoken former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, said in mid-February referring to RosUkrEnergo that intermediaries in energy relations with Russia were a threat to national security. She said she would raise the issue at a National Security and Defense Council session.

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