Russia and Ukraine remain at odds over renewed gas deliveries to Europe as Moscow says the flow is non-existent and Kyiv claims it is proceeding at a pace that is necessarily slow.
Russia broadcast the order to resume gas delivery to Europe on national television Tuesday morning. But the spokesman for Russia's Gazprom state gas company, Sergei Kupriyanov, now accuses Ukraine of blocking delivery of new gas at the border and of stealing fuel that was already in the pipeline.
Kupriyanov says frequent claims are made that it takes 36 hours for gas to reach European consumers from Russia. He says this can mean only one thing - Russian natural gas in transit to Europe has been stolen.
The reason, says Kupriyanov, is that enough pressure should have remained in the Ukrainian pipeline system since the cutoff of gas deliveries to Europe on January 7 to ensure that if gas is pumped into Ukraine from Russia it should exit simultaneously on the other end.
Ukraine, however, denies the theft charges. And the energy advisor to Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Oleksiy Hudyma, disputes the Russian claim about full pressure in the system. Hudyma told the VOA that re-pressurization is a slow process, adding that gas will reach Europe within a day.
Hudyma offers assurance on behalf of the Ukrainian government that if Russia continues to provide gas as it is now doing, full-fledged delivery of fuel will resume on Wednesday for European countries that are technically prepared to receive it.
Hudyma says all of Ukraine's neighboring countries will be told in advance when the valves will be re-opened.
There has been no confirmation from European gas monitors to determine whether Ukraine refuses to receive Russian gas, or whether the fuel delivery is in fact underway.
In a telephone call to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said European observers have had difficulties monitoring gas flows in Russia and Ukraine. Mr. Barroso also expressed disappointment over the lack of fuel transfers from Ukraine to Europe.
Mr. Putin later suggested the Ukrainian system may no longer be viable.
He says it could be that the technical condition of the Ukrainian system is such that it cannot pump the volumes needed, and if so, that should be stated openly so everyone can understand what kind of transport system they have to deal with.
Eighty percent of Russia's gas exports to Europe have gone through Ukraine, and the only problems have been disruptions tied to mid-winter contract disputes between Moscow and Kyiv. Russia is building an alternate pipeline under the Baltic Sea to circumvent much of the Ukrainian system.
Meanwhile, Gazprom Deputy Chairman Alexander Medvedev has suggested that a third country could be behind the actions taken by Ukraine. When asked if it could be the United States, Medvedev responded that he is a businessman, not a politician, but alluded to an unspecified agreement that Ukraine signed with the U.S. in December. Russian officials have on other occasions laid responsibility for the gas crisis on political infighting in Ukraine, incompetence, corruption, and criminal organizations.
In another development, Slovakia is at least the second country to hint at the possibility of restarting a controversial nuclear power plant to cope with the current energy crisis. Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico says his country has taken extraordinary steps to maintain the stability of its power system. But the Slovak head of government does not preclude restarting a nuclear power plant that was closed for safety reasons as a condition of entry into the EU. Bulgaria last week also raised the possibility of bringing such a facility back online.