EU in frantic talks as Russian gas flow stalls (Roundup)

January 13th, 2009 - 11:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Brussels, Jan 13 (DPA) The European Union (EU) launched a frantic round of telephone diplomacy with Russia and Ukraine Tuesday as the two countries blamed one another for breaking a promise to renew natural gas supplies to Europe.The Czech government, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, launched “contacts at the highest level with all the parties” in a bid to get the gas flowing again, presidency sources said.

On Tuesday morning, Russian gas monopoly Gazprom re-opened gas supplies through Ukraine to Europe, almost a week after it cut them off in a row over contracts for gas deliveries to Ukraine.

But within hours, Gazprom accused its Ukrainian counterpart, Naftogaz, of blocking gas deliveries onwards to the EU.

Ukraine denied the charge, with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko informing Czech premier Mirek Topolanek that “the pressure of gas arriving from the Russian Federation (was) too low” for Ukraine to pump it further, a EU statement said.

Almost simultaneously, officials from the EU’s executive, the European Commission, confirmed that “little or no gas” was flowing, according to EU monitors deployed along the pipelines.

Both Russia and Ukraine were denying the monitors full access to their respective central gas control rooms, in “clear violation” of earlier agreements, commission officials added.

The latest twist in the Russia-Ukraine row came less than 24 hours after EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs warned that the bloc’s patience was running out after almost a week of gas shortages, and threatened to name and shame anyone responsible for further delays.

“I expect gas supplies to resume. … If not, I will be able to say who is responsible,” Piebalgs said after an emergency meeting with EU energy ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Nevertheless, commission officials refused to allocate blame Tuesday, with commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen telling journalists that “we are not at this stage jumping to conclusions as to why (gas is not flowing), but the situation is obviously very serious and needs to improve rapidly.”

Officials in Brussels said neither side had provided any explanation as to why the monitors were not being provided with full, 24-hour access to the dispatching stations, as had been promised by both Moscow and Kiev.

They also confirmed that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin telephoned European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso about the failure to resume deliveries.

In the call - the fourth between the two leaders since the crisis began at the end of 2008 - Barroso expressed the EU’s “disappointment at both the levels of gas flowing through the pipelines … and the access of our monitors to the (control) centres”.

Putin told Barroso he would look into the matter.

The EU has been hard hit by the gas row between Moscow and Kiev, which saw all supplies of Russian gas via Ukraine to Europe cut off Wednesday.

On Monday, after five successive demands from the EU, officials from Russian gas monopoly Gazprom agreed to turn the supply back on, following the deployment of EU, Russian and Ukrainian experts to monitor the flow of gas out of Russia and through Ukraine.

Russia has repeatedly accused Ukraine of stealing gas meant for European customers, a claim Kiev denies.

Gazprom re-opened the taps Tuesday morning, but within hours accused Ukraine of blocking the flow of gas to Europe.

Russia is the EU’s largest supplier of gas, accounting for roughly one quarter of its total consumption. Under normal circumstances, 80 percent of that gas travels to the EU through Ukraine.

EU diplomats say the stand-off between Ukraine and Russia has undermined both the reliability and credibility of this crucial supply route.

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