Ukraine soldiers Slavyansk
Ukrainian army servicemen stand near an armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) as they man a checkpoint in the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian town of SlavyanskReuters

The European Union wants to settle a gas dispute between Ukraine and Russia before June 1 and plans two more rounds of talks for next week, the EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said on Monday.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with the Russian energy minister and the head of Gazprom, Oettinger told reporters that the EU would try to mediate on a deal that reduces the price Ukraine pays for gas.

"We have a timeframe that ends on June 1. We want to do all we can in two rounds of talks next week to clear up the open questions," he told German television channel ARD.

"Next Monday the next round of talks with the EU, Russia and Ukraine are planned," he added.

Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom nearly doubled the price it charges Ukraine for gas after pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February. Ukraine's interim government has refused to pay the new price which it described as "political".

"We want to negotiate a market price for Ukraine so that it is in a better position than it would be with the demands Mr Putin has been making since April 1," said Oettinger.

"Somewhere in the middle would seem to be a fair result of negotiations," he said.

Ukraine relies on Russia for around half of its gas needs and the country is a crucial transit route for Russian gas being exported to Europe via pipeline. The European Union receives around a third of its total gas from Russia, around half of which arrives via Ukraine.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has threatened to cut gas supplies to Ukraine if Kiev does not pay outstanding gas bills worth $3.51bn, warning European leaders that their supplies could also be affected if Ukraine does not pay for June gas deliveries in advance. He has called on EU leaders to help Ukraine pay off its debts to Gazprom.

"We will do all we can to make sure Ukraine can pay what it has missed in the last quarter of a year," he said.

Moscow has reduced gas supplies over price disputes with Ukraine in 2006 and 2008, which have disrupted gas deliveries to Europe.