Russia will continue to allow Ukraine to import less natural gas than previously agreed upon without penalties amid a severe financial crisis, the two countries' prime ministers said Tuesday.
The agreement between the two increasingly tense neighbors decreases the threat of future disruptions in Russian gas deliveries to European consumers.
A hard-won contract between Moscow and Kiev that restored Russian gas supplies to millions of Europeans after a two-week shutdown in January locked Ukraine into purchasing 40 billion cubic meters of gas this year.
But Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has called for importing only 28 billion cubic meters in 2009, arguing that Ukraine's crisis-stricken economy needs less energy than previously estimated. Ukraine is relying on a $16.4 billion rescue loan from the International Monetary Fund to avoid a complete meltdown.
"We understand that the Ukrainian economy today consumes as much in energy resources as it needs," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in televised comments after a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart in the Polish town of Sopot.
Putin said he and Tymoshenko will instruct the two countries' energy companies to work out the necessary agreements.
The leaders met on the sidelines of ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II.
Russia had already refrained from fining Ukraine for decreased imports earlier this spring. Putin's comments prolong that agreement, although no timeframe was given for this new policy.
"The position of Russia's prime minister is very important: Ukraine will pay for as much gas as it consumes as long as these tough crisis situations persist in the world," Tymoshenko said.
The deal was good news for European consumers, who were left freezing for two weeks in January after Russia cut off gas supplies through Ukraine in the middle of a pricing dispute.
Last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a harsh letter to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, accusing him of pursuing anti-Russian policies.
Some observers believe Moscow's friendly ties with Tymoshenko, Yushchenko's opponent in January presidential elections, signals its support for her candidacy.