Ukraine To Talk Gas?

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russian energy giant Gazprom early on Sunday called on Ukraine to resume negotiations in a row that has seen Moscow cutting off all gas to its neighbour, accusing it of siphoning off supplies meant for Europe.

A woman passes in front of a meter set on a gas pipe of the gas-compressor station in the small Ukrainian city of Boyarka, near Kiev. Russia on Sunday asked the European Union to provide monitoring of Ukraine's gas transit system and accused Ukraine of stealing gas bound for Europe, as Kiev levelled its own charges.

The appeal came as Kiev warned the European Union the bloc could face "serious problems" with Russian gas deliveries transiting its territory.

"Since December 31 Ukraine has refused to negotiate with Gazprom and has resorted to siphoning off gas intended for European consumers, in violation of its obligations as a country of transit," Gazprom deputy chief executive Alexander Medvedev said in a statement.

"We call on Ukraine to refrain from these illegal acts and to return to Moscow to negotiate, once and for all, a transaction on gas delivery that will be acceptable to the two sides," he said.

In what was seen as a softening of Gazprom's position Medvedev added: "We are ready to meet them immediately."

Gazprom to file lawsuit

On Saturday Gazprom had announced it had decided to file a lawsuit against Ukraine's state gas firm Naftogaz to ensure transit of Russian gas through Ukrainian territory to Europe.

"It's not just a threat but a reality, they are stealing gas from the pipelines and underground facilities," Medvedev said after talks in Berlin.

Medvedev, on a whistle-stop tour of European capitals to explain the Russian side of the gas dispute, said negotiating with Ukrainians was "like having a talk with people from the planet Mars."

Naftogaz rebutted by warning it would file a counter-complaint if Gazprom made good its threat, Interfax-Ukraine reported.

Ukraine warned on Saturday that the gas conflict with Russia could lead to serious problems for Europe within 10 days.

Several EU states were already reporting shortfalls of up to 10 percent in Russian gas being piped through Ukraine, as the effects of the standoff between Moscow and Kiev began to be felt beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union.

Accusations of theft

As the war of words intensified after Moscow turned off the tap on New Year's Day, Russia accused Ukraine of stealing gas intended for Europe while Ukraine alleged that Russia was under-supplying its EU customers.

"If the Russian side does not provide more gas (to EU member states) than at the moment, then in around 10 days there could be very serious technical problems," said top Ukrainian energy official Bogdan Sokolovsky.

"The transit of gas may be disrupted at some point," said Sokolovsky, President Viktor Yushchenko's representative on energy security. "It will not be our fault."

He said the problems would be caused by falling pressure in gas pipes due to the Russian cut of deliveries to Ukraine.

But Medvedev accused Ukraine of stealing 35 million cubic metres of Russian gas a day intended for Europe.

"All the gas which was illegally taken will have to be paid for," on top of the $600-million outstanding in other debts, he told reporters in the Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU presidency.

Naftogaz denied the charge, claiming the Russians are not delivering the due quantities to European clients.

Circumventing Ukraine

Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller told a management meeting that Gazprom would be pumping additional gas to European customers via pipelines that circumvent Ukraine.

"In these circumstances, Gazprom is obliged to supply additional volumes of gas via other transport corridors," he said.

The stream of accusations and counter-accusations came as several Central and Eastern European EU member states reported a drop in gas supplies from Russia via Ukraine.

Deliveries to Romania have fallen by 30 percent since the start of the dispute, Ioan Rus, director of the gas pipeline operator Transgaz, said, while adding that stocks were adequate to meet demand.

Poland reported a drop of 11 percent in supplies from Russia while Bulgaria said deliveries had been cut by 10 to 15 percent.

Other countries, including Hungary, Croatia and Serbia, said however that their supplies were at a normal level.

Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra, who met Medvedev in Prague, sought to provide reassurance, saying there was plenty of gas in stock.

"There is no reason for being insecure over the future deliveries, there is no reason for concern," he said.

Around a quarter of the gas used in the EU — more than 40 percent of the bloc's imports — comes from Russia, most of it pumped through Ukraine via a Soviet-built pipeline network.

Source: AFP

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