Russia And Ukraine Sign Deal To End Gas Standoff

PARIS, France -- Russia and Ukraine on Monday signed an agreement to deploy international pipeline monitors, clearing the way for a resumption of gas supplies to Europe, the head of the European Commission said Monday.

Pipelines at a gas compressor station in Sudzha in Russia's Kursk region on Sunday.

José Manuel Barroso, the EC president, said in Brussels that Russia had pledged to restore the flow of gas by 8 a.m. Tuesday if there were no further obstacles.

The agreement came after Ukraine, Russia and the European Union approved a deal to deploy the monitors.

The deal should restore shipments of Russian gas to millions of Europeans during a bitter winter cold spell, but it will not resolve the underlying dispute — Russia's demand that Ukraine sharply increase what it pays for gas for its own use.

Even with a resumption of gas flows, however, it may take three days for service to be fully restored, officials have said.

On Sunday, the governments of Russia and Ukraine and the European Union had agreed to deploy 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 last Tuesday after an extended dispute with Ukraine over pricing and accusations of stealing gas from the export pipelines.

Russia is prepared to resume gas shipments to Europe "as soon as possible," a spokesman for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Monday.

Shipments will restart "as soon as we are sure that the observers are on site in Ukraine," the spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists in a conference call, though he noted a few days would be needed to completely restore service. "Gazprom is ready and willing to renew the transit of gas as soon as it is possible," Peskov said.

Peskov said the Gazprom chief executive, Aleksy Miller, and Igor Sechin, the Russian deputy prime minister, would be in Brussels on Monday where they would be prepared to sign the agreement. A deal would restore transshipments of Russian gas to millions of Europeans who are without heating at the peak of a bitter winter cold spell, but it would not resolve the underlying dispute — Russia's demand that Ukraine sharply increase what it pays for gas for its own use.

"We hope that the problem of Ukraine in signing a proper document is solved," he added, "and we hope this is confirmed in the coming minutes or hours." He laid the blame for the delay in resuming shipments on Ukraine.

Earlier Monday, Gazprom said that Ukraine had signed the agreement "without any clauses."

Neither the Ukraine pipeline operator Naftogaz nor the European Commission immediately replied to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of Ukraine, said she could not immediately confirm that a new deal had been reached.

Over the weekend, the Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, secured Putin's signature in Moscow and then flew to Kiev, where Tymoshenko also signed the agreement. But Tymoshenko included a note beside her signature early Sunday morning, after the document had already been signed by Putin. In English, she wrote, "with declaration attached."

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 retreat on the allegation that had underpinned its justification for halting shipments to Europe.

The European Commission said Sunday that the Ukrainian declaration was "a mixture of factual restatement of what is in the terms of reference" and "Ukraine's interpretation of what has been agreed." The commission said it was its view that "nothing in the Ukrainian declaration adds to, or subtracts from, the terms of reference signed by the five parties."

It also said the monitoring teams were on the ground and ready to begin their work.

Source: International Herald Tribune