KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine plans in September to sign an agreement that would open imports of European natural gas via Slovakia, the Energy and Coal Industry Minister said Wednesday.
The agreement with Slovakia was originally expected to be signed June 20 and then July 4, but had been postponed both times for undisclosed reasons.
"I am confident that in September we will sign the agreement with our partners in Slovakia and in October with Romania," Stavytskiy said at a press conference.
Ukraine, which plans to reduce its reliance on Russia, has already been importing a small amount of European gas via Poland and Hungary, but opening the Slovakian route would be a game-changer because of its massive capacity.
The Slovakian route would be able to move up to 20 billion cu m/year of gas toward Ukraine, according to Stavytskiy.
Ukraine successfully tested the Slovakian route between May 15 and June 15, but the signing of the agreement had been postponed twice.
Ukraine was seeking assistance from the European Union to sign the agreement.
No official reason was given for postponing the agreement with Slovakia, but Stavytskiy said in early July that Russia's Gazprom may have played a role.
Ukraine, once the largest foreign market for Gazprom, has been rapidly reducing imports of Russian gas over the past 12 months due to high gas prices.
Ukraine's imports of gas from Russia dropped 34% year-on-year to 12.5 Bcm in January-July, according to UkrTransGaz, the state-owned gas shipping monopoly.
Ukraine began imports of gas from Europe in November 2012 after signing a contract with RWE of Germany in May 2012 that calls for imports of 5 Bcm/year.
But the contract can be expanded to 10 Bcm/year, Ukrainian officials said.