EU gas hangs in balance as Russia, Ukraine skirmish

January 10th, 2009 - 2:25 am ICT by IANS  

Brussels, Jan 10 (DPA) A European Union (EU)-brokered deal designed to resume Russian gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine hung in the balance Friday as officials from Moscow and Kiev continued to accuse each other of blocking progress.The latest row erupted just as the first members of an EU monitoring mission arrived in Kiev, with more expected within 24 hours.

At noon in Brussels, EU officials said that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had vowed to reopen gas taps as soon as the mission, agreed in telephone conversations overnight, got under way.

But almost simultaneously, the spokesman for Russian gas monopolist Gazprom, Sergei Kupryanov, accused Ukraine of rejecting the deployment of Russian experts - a precondition set by Moscow for the resumption of gas supplies.

“Ukraine categorically refuses to include Gazprom representatives and in overall agree with the proposal for the creation of an international multi-lateral monitoring commission,” he said, according to Interfax news agency.

And at the same moment, the head of Ukrainian gas monopolist Naftogaz, Oleh Dubina, told journalists in Kiev that Russian negotiators were not interested in a deal.

“We have the impression negotiators from Gazprom do not have the authority to sign the agreement,” Dubina said.

The European Commission, executive body of the EU, meanwhile, insisted that the conditions for turning the gas back on had already been met when Putin and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko approved the deployment of an EU mission in late-night talks with Brussels and Prague.

“There is now agreement on the details of the monitoring mission. It is now imperative that the gas starts to flow to the European Union without any further delay,” the commission said.

EU member states in Central and Southern Europe have already been hard hit by Russia’s shut-off of all gas supplies through Ukraine, with Slovakia relying on gas supplies from Poland and EU neighbour Serbia seeking emergency help from Germany, Austria and Hungary.

That situation looks certain to last at least through the weekend, after Russian and Ukrainian experts said that there would be a technical delay of up to 66 hours between Gazprom reopening supplies to Europe and the first consignments of Siberian gas reaching European customers.

Gas experts from EU member states met in Brussels Friday to discuss emergency support for those countries hardest hit by the crisis. EU energy ministers are set to hold yet another emergency meeting on the issue Monday.

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