EU Demands Russia Turn Gas Back On

European Union officials are calling Russia's cut off of natural gas to eight countries unacceptable. Russia turned off gas deliveries to Ukraine on January 1 because of a price dispute. It has since sharply cut the flow of gas through pipelines across Ukraine into Europe, accusing Kyiv of stealing gas.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin authorized gas cut-backs to Ukraine late Monday.

"Okay, I agree. Start reductions today," he said. 

He gave the go-ahead based on a recommendation made toward the end of a nationally televised meeting with Alexei Miller, the chairman of Russia's Gazprom state energy monopoly. 

Before dawn the Bulgarian Economy and Energy Ministry reported gas deliveries to that country, as well as transit to Turkey, Greece and Macedonia had been halted.  The ministry scheduled an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Bulgaria.

The Czech Republic is reporting deliveries are off by 75 percent and Austria's are down by 90.

The European Union is calling for immediate resumption of gas deliveries and negotiations to settle the Russia-Ukraine dispute.

During his talk with Gazprom chief Miller, Mr. Putin expressed an interest in reliable delivery of gas to all customers, including Georgia, and instructed Miller to inform the European Union about Russian efforts to resolve the dispute with Ukraine.

Russia plans to withhold the amount of gas it alleges Ukraine has stolen, more than 65 million cubic meters, and to continue doing so as long as siphoning continues.  Ukraine is reporting the flow of gas from Russia has been sharply reduced. 

The spokesman for Ukraine's Naftohas gas company, Valentyn Zemliansky, told VOA the company is concerned about Ukraine's image, which he says is being tarnished by false reports in the Russian media.  He also denies Ukraine is stealing gas, saying his country has been forced to pump more gas to Europe than it is receiving from Russia.

Zemliansky says Ukraine has transported more than 82 million cubic meters, which means the country is using its own gas reserves to meet the technical demands of transporting Russian gas.

Russian officials say they will increase deliveries to Europe via alternate pipelines through Belarus.  But that route does not have the capacity of the Ukrainian pipeline system, which has transported 80 percent of Russia's supplies to Western Europe. 

Miller and Zemliansky say neither Russian nor Ukrainian consumers have been affected by the gas dispute, because Russia has unlimited supplies and Ukraine has adequate reserves.  Ukrainian officials say those reserves should last at least through April. 

Ukraine and Russia do not have a gas supply contract for 2009, and Kyiv disputes a Russian claim that they have a valid gas transport agreement for this year.  Ukraine is also disputing a $615-million penalty Moscow says is for late payment on November and December gas deliveries.

Russia is demanding Ukraine pay $450 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas in 2009.  This is nearly twice the amount of $250 Moscow offered on December 31, when both sides broke off contract talks.  The chairman of Ukraine's gas company will fly to Moscow on Thursday to resume negotiations.


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