KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will unilaterally reduce its imports of Russian natural gas by half during 2012, a senior government official said on Wednesday.
The former Soviet republic will consume some 27 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas over the year, said Yury Boiko, Ukraine‘s Minister of Energy, at a Kiev press conference.
"We will be cutting our purchase of gas (from Russia) by half," he said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Responding to a question on how Ukraine could buy substantially less gas from Russia than contracted, Boiko said: "We will buy as much gas as our economy needs. If our (Russian) partners will have questions, they should resolve them in a civilised manner."
"There are issues that we have already agreed on (with Russia), and there are issues that are still not resolved," he said.
Ukraine imports approximately 60 per cent of its natural gas needs from Russia, making the country a major market for the Russian energy corporation Gazprom.
Gazprom chairman Aleksei Miller in a televised meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said his company considered the Ukrainian announcement and the potential reduced income worrying.
"Gazprom is concerned," Miller said. "The contracted volume is 52 bcm."
Miller in August appeared to signal Moscow‘s willingness to accept a limited reduction of gas Ukraine must buy from Russia, saying at the time he expected Kiev to purchase 33 bcm of natural gas in 2012, even if it is exceeds Ukrainian needs.
President Medvedev in the Wednesday meeting with Miller said Moscow would try to resolve the dispute with Ukraine by negotiations.
"We will behave in a civilised manner," Medvedev said. "And how else could the Russian side ever act?"
Kiev officials in recent months have repeatedly called for Gazprom to reduce the contracted price and volumes of gas sold Ukraine, citing the worldwide economic slowdown and falling domestic demand for gas.
Russian officials have said the price Ukraine pays for gas is fair, but that Moscow would be willing to renegotiate Ukraine‘s import contract if the Ukrainians agreed to sell portions of their natural gas transportation network to Russia.
Some two-thirds of all Russian gas sold in Europe travels to market via pipelines crossing Ukraine.
Kiev has long opposed the pipelines‘ sale to Gazprom, on grounds of national security.
Disputes between Ukraine and Russia over natural gas pricing and shipment terms have halted most Russian natural gas deliveries to Europe twice, in 2006 and 2009.
Both sides blamed each other for the stand-off.
Ukraine consumed some 54 billion bcm of gas from all sources in 2011, according to news reports.