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Russia, Ukraine Hold Talks Aimed at Resolving Gas Dispute


A delegation of Ukrainian energy officials flew to Moscow to renew talks with Russia's energy company Gazprom, aimed at resolving a bitter dispute over natural gas prices. The talks come as Russia restored full gas service to Europe.

Executives from Ukraine's Naftogaz energy company are holding talks with Gazprom officials in Moscow, seeking a way to resolve the crisis over gas supplies. Talks broke off just before New Year's Day, when Ukraine refused to accept Russia's demand that Kiev accept a 400 percent increase in the price of Russian gas.

This led Gazprom to cut the flow of gas into pipelines that carry supplies to Ukraine, but also to most of Europe.

After a number of European countries reported that their supplies were also decreasing, Gazprom promised to restore full service. Hungary, France and other countries have reported the flow is returning to normal.

Russia blamed the shortfall on Ukraine, saying its neighbor was stealing gas that was meant to go to western Europe.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov says Ukraine is still taking gas illegally. He said Gazprom had increased supply to "compensate for Ukraine's illegal siphoning off of gas" but would not be willing to do that forever.

Ukraine denies taking any gas that should have gone to Europe, and accuses Russia of punishing the country for its pro-Western tilt under President Viktor Yushchenko.

The gas crisis has highlighted Europe's dependence on Russian for much of its energy needs, and some countries blamed Moscow for using energy as a political weapon.

Europe imports about one quarter of its natural gas from Russia via pipelines that mostly cross Ukraine. Second-largest supplier Norway says it is already operating at full capacity.

European Union energy officials are due to hold a special meeting Wednesday in Brussels to discuss energy security, amid calls for decreasing the continent's reliance on Russia.

Ironically Russian President Vladimir Putin says energy security is his priority with Russia's leadership of the G-8 group of industrialized nations this year.

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