The European Union says a gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine does not threaten European supplies. But the issue is serious enough to prompt an emergency EU meeting on Monday, and fresh efforts to resolve the dispute.
Members of the 27-member European Union met in Brussels to discuss the natural gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine, even as they tried to play down the fallout for Europe.
Russia stopped gas deliveries to Kyiv on January 1, but Russian gas also runs through a key pipeline across Ukraine to Europe. Several EU countries, particularly those in Eastern Europe, have reported drops in gas deliveries, but say they can compensate for them.
Radek Honzak, the spokesman for the Czech Republic's EU presidency, spoke to reporters in the Belgian capital.
"At the moment, the gas supply to consumers is not under threat," he said. "The EU and member states have been able to compensate for any drops in supply through gas reserves, gas stocks and through other supply routes."
But Honzak called the dispute between Ukraine and Moscow over how much Kyiv will pay for Russian gas a "serious problem" that needs to be solved immediately. Russia supplies Europe with about one quarter of its gas.
An EU fact-finding mission is expected to discuss the matter with Russian energy giant Gazprom on Tuesday.
Russian authorities accuse Ukraine of stealing gas meant for Europe. But Kyiv says Gazprom is not providing enough gas.
Gazprom's deputy chief executive, Alexander Medvedev, was in Paris on Monday to talk about the standoff and Russia's complaint with Ukraine.
"The Ukrainian side is claiming that they settled all the debt for 2008," he said. "Today the debt of 2008 is equal to $615 million. The debt is not paid."
Gazprom has offered Ukraine a new contract for 2009, but at prices far higher than Kyiv wants to pay. The dispute is similar to one three years ago, when Moscow also turned off its gas to Ukraine. This time, however, analysts say both Europe and Ukraine have enough gas reserves to weather the standoff - at least for now.