Brussels Calls for Observers in Ukraine Europe Pushes for Russia to Resume Gas Deliveries

The European Union is seeking a deal with Russia and Ukraine that would see the stationing of independent observers so that gas delivers can resume to Europe. Countries all across Europe on Wednesday reported dramatic reductions in gas delivered from Russia.

It feels like 2006 all over again in Europe this week. Arctic cold has arrived bringing record low temperatures to wide swaths of Europe -- and Russian natural gas giant Gazprom is again cutting gas supplies to Ukraine, resulting in inevitable disruptions to large parts of Europe.

The pressure gauge at this main gas distribution station where pipelines enter Romania from Ukraine read "zero" on Wednesday.

The pressure gauge at this main gas distribution station where pipelines enter Romania from Ukraine read "zero" on Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, the European Union ratcheted up its efforts to ensure gas deliveries to Europe are restored promptly. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Russia and Ukraine had expressed their wilingness to accept the deployment of international monitors to inspect the flow of Russian gas that travels to the European Union through Ukraine to ensure the flow is not interrupted. The EU receives one-quarter of its gas from Russia, though that dependency is greater in some member states.

"We have received assurances from both … they are ready to accept international monitors," Barroso said, after a meeting in Prague with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country just assumed the six-month presidency of the European Union. Topolanek called on Kiev and Moscow to return to the negotiating table. "If this is agreed," he said, "nothing will stand in the way for transit supplies to be restored."

A Warning to the Ukraine

But Barroso also warned Ukraine against intransigence. "If Ukraine wants to be closer to the EU, it should not create any problems for gas to come to the EU," he said. "If both Russia and Ukraine behave as they are saying, there should be no problem."

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel made telephone calls to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Timoshenko on Wednesday in an effort to break the impasse, her spokesman told reporters. Merkel reiterated the EU suggestion of sending independent monitors to determine the true cause of the delivery problems.

Wednesday's firm diplomacy came just hours after Gazprom reported that Ukraine had shut off the last of four transit pipelines that carry gas through the country on its way to Western Europe. Western Europe is still receiving gas through other Russian pipelines that bypass Ukraine, but supplies have been radically reduced. Gazprom has accused Ukraine of stealing gas that was intended for other European customers, and chief executive Alexei Miller said there was no longer any reason to pump gas through Ukraine on its way to Europe. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also accused Ukraine of having "stolen gas from European consumers and not from Russia."

Executives at Naftogas, the Ukrainian company that manages pipelines that carry Russian gas to the West, claim supplies were cut off by Gazprom.

Disruptions are already being reported across much of Europe. On Wednesday morning, Austria confirmed that its gas supplies from Russia had dried up. The country said it had plenty of gas in storage as well as its own production to cover its needs during the coming days.

Graphic: Europe's gas arteries

Graphic: Europe's gas arteries

Russian gas has completely stopped flowing to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania. "The main pipeline from the east was closed at midnight," a spokesman for Czech gas importer Transgas told reporters on Wednesday. Transgas said it had enough in its reserves and from Norwegian gas imports to cover its daily consumption of 50 billion cubic meters for several weeks. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic, in its capacity as EU president, called on both Kiev and Moscow to return to the negotiating table.

Tens of thousands of Serbians also awoke on Wednesday morning for the Orthodox Christmas festivities in cold homes because of the Russian gas stop. In some small cities, heating plants were unable to replace gas supplies with oil quickly enough. Gas supplies from Russia, which normally go to the country through Hungary, have been cut off since midnight. The halt in delivery has angered many Serbs because the country sold its natural gas industry at a bargain price to the Russians at the start of the year. In exchange, they were pledged secure natural gas supplies from Russia.

In Romania, the delivery of Russian gas has also been fully disrupted. Economics Minister Adriean Videanu called an emergency meeting of his government. Gas outages began to hit Turkey and Bulgaria on Tuesday.

Smaller quantities of gas continue to flow to Western Europe through pipelines in Belarus, but normally about 80 percent of all the gas pumped from Russia to the EU travels through Ukraine.

Energy Debate Sparks Again

The current energy conflict between Moscow and Kiev escalated after the two sides were unable to agree on the terms for new gas prices. On Wednesday, Ukraine's Naftogas rejected Gazprom's latest offer of $450 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, more than double the price it has paid up until now. Earlier, the country had said it would be prepared, under certain conditions, to pay up to $235. Talks aren't expected to resume again until Thursday.

Gazprom Vice President Alexander Medvedev, visiting Berlin on Tuesday, also warned Ukraine that serious damage could be caused to its pipelines if the gas is turned off for too long. He called on Ukraine to reopen its pipelines in order to enable deliveries to Europe to resume. Medvedev also warned Germany that the gas dispute with Ukraine could be a lasting one.


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