Tue, January 13, 2009
World > Europe > Russia-Ukraine gas row

Russia declares gas monitoring deal void

2009-01-12 03:55:48 GMT2009-01-12 11:55:48 (Beijing Time)  SINA.com

Jordanka Dimitrichkova, 86 years old, who lives alone at her home in a suburb of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, looks out from her home at a pile of firewood as she tries to stay warm near a wood-burning stove, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2009. (AP Photo/Petar Petrov)

A woman puts a piece of wood in her house in Donetsk, Ukraine. An EU-brokered accord on terms for Russia to resume gas supply to Europe collapsed Sunday when Russia accused Ukraine of secretly altering the deal and declared it null and void. (AFP/Alexander Khudoteply)

SUDZHA GAS METERING STATION, Russia – Teams of EU monitors deployed Sunday at natural gas transit sites along Ukraine's vast pipeline network, but still no gas flowed to a freezing Europe.

Russia refused to restart gas supplies that have been stalled since Wednesday, saying the deal for the monitors was made void by Ukraine, which signed the document but then issued what it called a "declaration" to accompany it.

The European Commission insisted the declaration could not change the agreement, but Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the document was void unless Ukraine withdrew the declaration.

He denounced the Ukrainian move as a "mockery of a common sense and a violation of previously reached agreements."

Russia has demanded monitors to track the movement of gas across Ukraine before it will restart supplies to other European countries. Russia stopped supplying gas to Ukraine on Jan. 1 amid a price dispute and later stopped supplying countries beyond Ukraine because it claimed Kiev was siphoning off the gas.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in a phone conversation that Russia considers any supplements to the deal unacceptable. He added that the Ukrainian declaration defies the pact and refers to commercial issues that aren't part of it.

Bohdan Sokolovsky, an energy adviser to the Ukrainian president, insisted the declaration was only a statement explaining the Ukrainian position. He accused Moscow of exerting political and economic pressure on Ukraine.

"Russia has turned the gas war into a gas circus where bears have already forgotten that they can be tamed," Sokolovsky told The Associated Press. "The Kremlin is consciously creating conflict."

Even before the gas cutoff, Russia and Ukraine had been at odds over Ukraine's efforts to join NATO and its support for the former Soviet republic of Georgia in its war with Russia in August. Last week, U.S. officials had warned Russia not to use its energy resources as a weapon against Europe.

Russia supplies about one-quarter of the EU's natural gas, 80 percent of it shipped through Ukraine, and the disruption has come as the continent is gripped by subfreezing temperatures in which at least 11 people have frozen to death.

Fallout from the gas cutoff reverberated Sunday, with the Hungarian capital, Budapest, issuing its first-ever smog alert because power plants had switched from natural gas to dirtier fuels. Austria also voiced alarm over neighboring Slovakia's plans to restart an aging Soviet nuclear reactor to get heat for its people.

Sales of electric heaters have soared across eastern Europe and thousands of businesses have been forced to cut production or even shut down.

The European Commission strongly urged Russia to move faster, noting that monitoring teams already had reached gas facilities on Ukraine's eastern border. "There is no reason to further delay gas supplies," it said in a statement.

Russia said it had to halt supplies because Ukraine was stealing gas intended for Europe. Ukraine angrily denied the accusations, saying Russia did not send enough gas to pump supplies west over Ukraine's 23,000 miles (37,800 kilometers) of pipelines.

One EU team reached the Sudzha gas measuring station on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine on Sunday, 250 miles (400 kilometers) east of Kiev.

Another EU team moved to a different unit at Luhansk on Ukraine's southeastern border and three groups of experts were traveling to gas pumping stations on Ukraine's border with EU countries at Orlovka, Uzhgorod and Drozdowichi.

EU monitors will also be in Kiev and Moscow, at the pumping centers for Ukraine's state gas company Naftogaz and Russia's state-run gas monopoly Gazprom.

Ukrainian officials said it would take three days for gas to reach Europe if Russia decides to resume supplies.

Sudzha officials on Sunday were measuring pressure in five huge, silver snow-covered pipes capped by round sensors. The pipes, stretching several hundred yards (meters) to the Ukrainian border, are extensions of underground pipelines that carry gas.

One EU monitor there, Michael Huesken of German energy giant E.ON AG, voiced hope that the mission will "help quickly restore gas deliveries through Ukraine."

Both Russia and Ukraine have been hard hit by the global economic slowdown. Energy is the driving force behind Russia's economy and the government's budget, and the drastic fall in oil prices since summer has decimated Moscow's currency reserves.

Ukraine, meanwhile, faces economic collapse and is desperate to avoid higher gas prices because it is heavily dependent on natural gas.

Last year, Russia charged Ukraine $179.50 per 1,000 cubic meters, about half what it charged its European customers, but both Putin and Medvedev have vowed that Ukraine will pay market rates for gas in 2009.

Naftogaz company chief Oleh Dubyna said the latest round of contract talks ended Saturday without result, with Gazprom demanding a price of $450.


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