* President Yanukovich says gas issue will remain sensitive
* Faces domestic pressure over high gas prices before vote
* Russia-Ukraine stand-off resulted in fuel cuts to Europe
By Alexei Anishchuk
SOCHI, Russia, Aug 25 Ukraine's President Viktor
Yanukovich hinted on Saturday he may soften his stance against
Russia over gas prices and membership of Moscow-backed regional
groups, seeking support from the Soviet-era ruler before an
October parliamentary election.
Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russian gas while about 70
percent of Russia's gas exports to Europe go via Ukraine.
Kiev has tried for years to renegotiate a deal struck in
January 2009 after Ukraine's squabbling with Moscow left several
European countries without gas for almost three weeks when
Russia halted exports via Ukraine.
Yanukovich, whose party faces an election in late October,
met Vladimir Putin in the Russian president's Black Sea
residence of Bocharov Ruchei.
This was second such meeting in just over six weeks, and
despite the fact that the encounter again failed to produce any
solid results, the Ukrainian leader said his country may change
its stance in gas talks. He gave no further details.
"The issue (of gas supplies from Russia) will never be
excluded from our relations and will always remain sensitive,"
he said. "We would like to slightly alter our positions in our
relations with Russia."
After failing to get a discount from Moscow in prolonged
negotiations throughout 2011, Ukraine, which pays more than $400
per 1,000 cubic metres of Russian gas - on a par with Europe -
tried to cut the volume of its gas imports, set at maximum of
around 50 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year.
The Kremlin has hinted that it may sweeten the gas deal if
Ukraine joins a Putin-brokered alliance, including fellow former
Soviet states of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Kiev has resisted the idea of jointly building Putin's
vision of a Eurasian Union, but Yanukovich told the Russian
president that Ukraine is willing to participate in another
Moscow-backed entity, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
"We would like to become observers in this organisation so
that we would be able to take part in integration processes on
this territory," Yanukovich said.
Yanukovich's Party of the Regions hopes to get a renewed
majority at Oct. 28 elections despite signs of flagging support
in parts of the country's industrialised east and south, with
high gas prices paid by consumers traditionally seen as a major
shortcoming of the Ukrainian leadership.
Supporting Putin, who is popular among the Russian-speaking
population of Ukraine, was crucial for Yanukovich in his victory
in 2010 presidential election, when he trounced the leader of
the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution Yulia Tymoshenko.
Tymoshenko was jailed last year for abuse of office relating
to the J anuary 2009 gas agreement.