Ukraine hopes to complete talks with Russia and the European Union on a gas consortium in the near future, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said on Friday.

Ukraine voiced hopes of setting up a gas consortium with Russia and the EU as early as 2000, but talks stumbled over ex-president Viktor Yushchenko's pro-Western policies.

"World history has known cases when such talks have gone on for years and a result has suddenly been achieved in one day," Azarov said in an interview with the Kievsky Telegraf newspaper.

"We still measure the length of talks [on the gas consortium] in months, but we hope that we will come to an agreement soon," he said.

Ukraine offers to provide transit guarantees to Russia - "for instance, to transit annually 150 cu m of gas through our territory," Azarov said.

"In the absence of one of the three partners, the gas consortium cannot be created," he said.

He said a merger between Russia's gas giant Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftogaz, proposed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in late April, "was not a joke."

The proposal was slated by the Ukrainian opposition as putting Ukraine's sovereignty at risk.


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