Russia, EU agree plan to resume Europe gas supply
AFP - 1 hour 19 minutes ago
MOSCOW (AFP) - - Russia and the EU signed an accord Saturday to monitor Russian gas shipments to Europe, piling pressure on transit country Ukraine to accept the deal that would resume supply to gas-starved countries.
The agreement was signed after Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, representing the EU, held a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and said afterwards that getting Kiev to sign "shouldn't be a problem."
The Czech prime minister, who met Ukrainian leaders in Kiev on Friday, was to fly back to Ukraine where he was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko later Saturday in a flurry of shuttle diplomacy by the EU leader.
As the three-way negotiations continued, countries west of Ukraine, notably in central Europe and the Balkans, continued to report dramatic shortages of gas that have hit factories, schools and heating in private homes.
Serbia, Bosnia and Slovakia were particularly hard hit, while Moldova announced that its gas supply would run out in the course of the day and the situation in one part of that country was "close to catastrophe."
The signing of the document by Ukraine would fulfil the condition Russia has imposed for resuming its shipments of natural gas through the ex-Soviet state to clients in Europe that have suffered serious gas shortages.
Putin vowed that Russia would re-open the gas taps as soon as the "control mechanism" for verifying the volumes flowing through Ukraine took effect.
But the powerful Russian prime minister warned Russia would halt supply again if it detected any "theft" of Europe-bound gas transiting via Ukraine.
"We will watch how much gas goes into Ukrainian territory and how much comes out," Putin said after meeting Topolanek at his country residence outside Moscow.
"If we see theft and any part of the gas is lost, we will again cut delivery in that amount. We will not tolerate theft."
Ukraine has repeatedly denied Russian accusations that it was "stealing" transit gas meant for Russia's gas customers in Europe and has made clear it also wants monitors to inspect key gas metering facilities inside Russia.
Despite massive pressure from Russia, Ukraine has so far refused to sign any deal allowing international monitors to verify gas flows on its territory, saying proposals it received did not give Kiev equal rights with Moscow.
Ukraine's deputy prime minister, Grygory Nemyrya, signalled to reporters in Kiev on Saturday that his country was now hopeful it could sign the accord in a matter of hours.
"I am hoping" the deal will be signed by Ukraine on Saturday, he said.
The text of the document signed at Putin's residence was not immediately made public.
Putin however said the monitoring commission to be set up under the accord would include representatives of Russian gas giant Gazprom, Ukraine's gas company Naftogaz and the energy ministries of both countries.
It would also comprise officials from the EU itself, along with representatives of European gas companies and independent experts, Putin said.
Ukraine complained shortly before the deal was signed that it was unfairly weighted to favour Russia.
"There should be an unambiguous principle of parity" in the monitoring agreement, Yeliseyev said.
The current crisis was sparked on New Year's Day when Russia cut gas supply to Ukraine hours after the two ex-Soviet countries failed to come to terms on Kiev's payment of arrears and a purchase price for 2009.
After that cut, volumes of Russian gas transiting Ukraine to clients in Europe began to drop dramatically. Moscow accused Kiev of illegally siphoning gas while Ukraine countered that Russia was intentionally manipulating supply.
Several days later, Russia charged that Ukraine had completely shut down all pipelines transporting Russian gas to Europe. After that, Putin ordered Gazprom to halt pumping gas to Europe through Ukraine, sparking sudden cuts downstream.
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