By Laurence Norman
BRUSSELS--The presidents of Russia, Ukraine and the European Commission will hold "consultations" on the gas and trade issues dividing them, the European Union said in a statement late Thursday.
The move comes ahead of Friday's emergency meeting of foreign ministers which will debate the situation in Ukraine.
The EU's executive body issued a statement following a phone call Thursday between Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Russian President Vladimir Putin--their second conversation of the week.
"It was agreed to hold consultations between the Presidents of Russia, Ukraine and the European Commission on the issues related with the implementation of theAssociation Agreement as well as on the supply of gas, in parallel with the efforts to stabilize the political and security situation," the Commission said.
The EU said concrete plans for the talks are still to be decided. However EU officials said they would include direct three-way face-to-face talks among the leaders.
The EU had already held some high-level talks with Russia and Kiev on ways to implement the bloc's recently signed trade agreement--the Association Agreement--with Ukraine in ways that will limit the fallout on Russia's economy.
There were also a series of unsuccessful ministerial-level meetings between the EU, Russia and Ukraine attempting to resolve a gas dispute. Russia's state-owned energy giant, Gazprom, has since switched off most gas supplies to Ukraine because of unpaid bills. Kiev says Russia has unfairly raised gas bills.
The gas talks were due to resume in early autumn, an EU spokeswoman said earlier Thursday. The involvement of the three presidents could give them added momentum.
Tensions between Russia and the EU over Ukraine have increased recently. In late July, the bloc imposed its toughest sanctions yet on Russia over Moscow's annexation of Crimea and involvement in eastern Ukraine.
Russia retaliated last week by banning many imports of EU agricultural products.
However EU officials have also been encouraging Kiev to push again for a diplomatic solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine even while the bloc refused to criticize Ukraine's military offensive against pro-Russian rebels.
The coming three-way consultations and this week's phone calls between Mr. Barroso and the Russian leader represent the most significant diplomatic contact between the two in many weeks.
Write to Laurence Norman at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 14, 2014 17:09 ET (21:09 GMT)
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