Gas Deal In Europe Is Undone And Redone

MOSCOW, Russia -- A European Union-brokered deal between Russia and Ukraine to restore the flow of heating fuel to the Continent seemed to be falling apart Sunday evening, less than a day after it had been signed, with Moscow objecting to conditions that Ukraine attached to the agreement after Russia had already signed it.

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the Czech Republic and Ukraine’s prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, in Kiev. Mr. Topolanek had secured a deal between Russia and Ukraine.

In what appeared to be a first step toward resolving a dispute that has cut off about one-fifth of the natural gas used in Europe, at the peak of the winter heating season, the governments of Russia and Ukraine and the European Union agreed to establish independent monitors of pipelines that carry Russian gas to the west.

The protocol was a precondition set by Russian energy officials to turn on the gas flow again. Russia shut off the valves on Tuesday after an extended dispute with Ukraine over pricing and accusations of stealing gas from the export pipelines.

In a flurry of shuttle diplomacy over the weekend, the Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, secured the signature of Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, in Moscow and then flew to Kiev, where Ukraine’s prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, also signed the agreement.

Yet by late Sunday, the off-again-on-again deal appeared to be off again. Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying he would not honor the pact.

At issue was a handwritten phrase that Ms. Tymoshenko wrote beside her signature early Sunday morning, after the document had already been signed by Mr. Putin. In English, she wrote, “with declaration attached.”

Ms. Tymoshenko’s declaration, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, said that Ukraine had not been guilty of stealing gas from the export pipelines, a statement essentially asking Moscow to backpedal on the allegation that had underpinned its justification for halting shipments to Europe.

Heading into Monday, the prospects for a deal were marked by confusion and uncertainty.

Bloomberg News reported that a European Union official had said that Ukraine had agreed to sign a new version of the accord to authorize the monitoring of the pipelines, paving the way to resume gas shipments. The report said that the new deal came after a phone call between Mr. Putin and the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, and would be separate from Ms. Tymoshenko’s declaration.

“Barroso has spoken to Tymoshenko, and they have agreed to separate the two documents,” Ferran Tarradellas Espuny, a commission spokesman, said in Brussels, according to the report. “On one side the declaration, and on the other side the terms of reference.”

The declaration from Ms. Tymoshenko also demanded that Russia, if it wanted to export gas to Europe across Ukraine, provide fuel to operate pumping stations along the pipeline route. Russia has refused to do that, saying it is Ukraine’s obligation as the country responsible for transit.

The Russian authorities quickly said this rendered the agreement void.

Mr. Medvedev blamed Ukraine for collapsing the deal and sharply criticized the Ukrainian addendum.

“I instruct the government not to use the document that was signed yesterday,” he said.

“These clauses and annexes are a mockery of common sense and an offense against the agreements that were reached earlier,” Mr. Medvedev said in comments published by the Interfax news agency. “These actions are seeking to destroy the existing agreements on the control over the gas transit; they have an expressed provocative and destructive nature.”

Mr. Putin, in a phone call on Sunday to Mr. Barroso, said Russia would not accept conditions added after he had signed the protocol, Interfax reported.

Seeking to sooth Russian concerns, Mr. Topolanek called Mr. Putin to say that Ms. Tymoshenko’s declaration was not binding. Later Sunday, Mr. Barroso said Ms. Tymoshenko had agreed to address Russian concerns over her statement with the goal of restoring gas flows to Europe, Reuters reported.

A spokesman for Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, said the company’s chief executive, Aleksei B. Miller, would fly to Brussels on Monday to continue negotiations.

Even once an agreement is in place, it may be days before relief comes to European countries down the line from Ukraine, especially Poland and Bulgaria, which have suffered greatly without heating fuel in the bitter winter weather.

If Russia immediately turned on the flow, it would take about three days to repressurize the European natural gas pipeline system and restore full service, experts said. And the underlying price dispute has still not been resolved.

The Russian authorities maintain that Ukraine began siphoning from pipelines some of the Russian natural gas intended for export to Europe and has been using it to meet internal demand since Russia halted supplies to Ukraine on Jan. 1 because of a dispute over pricing.

Source: The New York Times