BRUSSELS - The European Union confirmed plans on Friday for talks between Russia, Ukraine, the EU and the United States in Geneva on April 17.

"The European Union is fully engaged in the diplomatic efforts to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine and to find a political solution," the office of EU foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton said.

Ashton will take part in the talks.

Speaking in Washington, Russia's finance minister said that his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble, and other ministers from the Group of 20 leading nations have expressed willingness to help resolve Ukraine's gas crisis.

Schaeuble met on the sidelines of the World Bank-International Monetary Fund spring meeting in Washington and gas deliveries to Ukraine dominated the bilateral talk, Anton Siluanov said.

"Schaeuble and others are interested in a fast resolve of Ukraine's (gas) conflict and in the country's ability to repay its obligations," Siluanov said.

Moscow insists, however, that Kiev must first repay outstanding debt for natural gas deliveries before any further Russian aid to Kiev can be considered. Russia estimates the debt at $2.2 billion.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's embattled premier vowed on Friday to grant more power to the country's regions in a bid to stamp out a separatist insurgency that sprang up just as a new Russian gas war threatened European supplies. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's promise during a visit to the coal mining region of Donetsk came as militants armed with Kalashnikovs barricaded themselves inside the local government building and demanded a referendum on joining Russia.

A similar occupation of the state security office of the hardscrabble eastern city of Lugansk has confronted Ukraine's untested leaders with their biggest challenge since their February ouster of a Kremlin-backed president and decision to strike an alliance with the West.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin - his troops already massed along Ukraine's eastern border following their seizure of Crimea - only upped the stakes by threatening to cut off Ukraine's gas over unpaid bills.

"The issue is not about us. The issue is about securing transits through Ukraine," Putin said on Friday.

The decision could limit the supplies of at least 18 European nations for the third time since 2006. Each of the previous interruptions also coincided with attempts by Ukraine to pull itself out of the Kremlin's historic sphere of influence.

Putin's warning came after Russia had already nearly doubled Ukraine's energy price and demanded that its neighbour rewrite its constitution in order to give eastern regions the right to set their own economic and diplomatic relations with Moscow.

The Kremlin's emphatic response to its possible loss of control over the nation of 46 million people has plunged its relations with the West to post-Cold War lows and forced NATO to step up the defence of former Soviet satellite states.