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EU Leaders Pledge Support For Ukraine, Help In Ensuring Reliable Gas Supplies

Updated

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) walks with European Council President Charles Michel (center), and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (L) at the summit in Kyiv on October 12.

Top European Union officials have pledged deeper support for Ukraine and say the bloc is trying to ensure that Ukraine's natural-gas supplies go uninterrupted this winter, amid concerns about the reliability of Russian supplies.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Charles Michel, head of the European Council, spoke at a joint news conference in Kyiv on October 12 during a summit with Ukrainian officials including President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

"We will also work closely with you to increase gas-supply capacity coming from member states of the European Union," von der Leyen said. "And this also includes the option of working on arrangements to reverse the flow of an additional gas pipeline from Slovakia."

"Ukraine remains, and must remain, a reliable transit country" for gas supplies to Europe, she said.

The meeting was the 23rd Ukraine-EU summit and comes with Ukraine's eastern war with Kremlin-backed forces in its eighth year and Zelenskiy under increasing pressure over internal reforms and the country's long-running fight with corruption.

The issue of gas supplies -- to both Ukraine, and to European markets -- has come into sharp focus in recent weeks as temperatures fall and gas prices soar to record levels.

Ukraine, as well as some European countries, have pinned blame for the price spike on Europe's biggest single supplier for gas: Russia and its state-owned company, Gazprom.

Experts say the surging prices are due to a combination of factors, including a longer, colder winter last year that depleted storage supplies, disruption of other suppliers like Norway, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies from the United States being diverted to Asia.

Ukraine also fears its supplies from Russia could be disrupted given continuing hostilities between the two countries. Those tensions include the status of the Russian-occupied Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and ongoing fighting with the separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Adding further to the situation is the pending launch of Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will bring Russian gas directly to Europe. The Baltic Sea pipeline will increase the amount of Russian gas flowing into Europe, but also bypass Ukraine, denying Kyiv billions in dollars in transit fees.

A day prior to the summit, the European Union extended sanctions, and added eight new individuals to the economic restrictions that the bloc imposed on Russia as a result of the Ukrainian hostilities.

The latest measures targeted judges, prosecutors and security officials who enforce Russian law in Crimea and the port city of Sevastopol.

In all, the assets of 185 individuals and 48 entities have been frozen under the EU measures. They are also subject to a travel ban.

The main negotiations aimed at resolving the Ukrainian hostilities, called the Normandy format, have been frozen for months, with little progress.

Ahead of the summit, Zelenskiy spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron -- both of whom are part of the Normandy format -- about resolving the conflict.

Afterward, the French and German leaders spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and all four sides reportedly agreed to a ministerial-level meeting "soon," according to the German Foreign Ministry.

In Kyiv, EU officials also announced a new aviation agreement that will lift restrictions on airlines flying between Ukrainian and EU airports.

With reporting by Reuters
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