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Europe Kept Waiting for Gas

The process of resuming delivery of Russian natural gas to Europe has been filled with doubt and contradictions, raising questions about when European consumers will finally see a renewed flow of supplies.

Russian and Ukrainian acceptance of a European Union proposal to allow observers to monitor Ukraine's pipeline system has been an on-again-off-again process. Gas officials in Kyiv and Moscow initially confirmed that EU and Russian observers would be allowed to check gas flows through Ukraine and the presidents of both countries also signaled their approval.

But the Interfax news agency quotes a source close to the Russian government as saying the Ukrainian side is once again casting doubt on the makeup of a multilateral monitoring group. Earlier, Russia's Gazprom state energy monopoly issued a statement on its Web site claiming that Ukraine had disrupted the process of signing a protocol to authorize a multilateral monitoring commission.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev insists the monitoring may not proceed without a written agreement.

The press center at Ukraine's Naftohaz gas company says its spokesman, Valentyn Zemliansky, was in a briefing from mid-afternoon and would not be available until Saturday.

However, in remarks on Tuesday, Zemliansky told VOA that Ukraine welcomes monitors.

Zemliansky says if truly legitimate representatives make the request, Ukraine is prepared to let them into their monitoring stations. He says Ukrainians have nothing to hide. The spokesman notes that Western observers were already in Russia, adding it would be interesting to hear what they have to say about the volumes that were being pumped from Russia to Ukraine.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country recently assumed the EU presidency, is expected to discuss the monitoring with leaders in Kyiv and Moscow.

Meanwhile, senior gas company officials for both countries are questioning the credentials of each other's representatives to suspended contract talks. In a televised meeting with President Dmitri Medvedev at a winter resort near the city of Sochi, Gazprom Chairman Alexei Miller said the Ukrainian side does not appear ready to sign a contract.

Miller says there is an impression that the Ukrainian negotiators have no mandate and no authority to discuss the price and volume of gas for 2009. The negotiations, he says, are basically empty.

The wording of a statement by Miller's Ukrainian counterpart, Naftohaz's Oleh Dubyna is remarkably similar. Dubyna also refers to an impression that the Russian negotiating team has no authority or mandate to sign any contracts with Naftohaz. He adds that the Russia side appears unprepared to continue the negotiating process.

Europe has been the innocent bystander in the standoff between Moscow and Kyiv, which comes during an unusually cold winter on the continent. Germany, France and Poland report significant gas cutbacks. Supplies were halted altogether in Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Turkey. Russia accuses Ukraine of closing pipeline valves for European consumers and stealing gas for itself. Ukraine denies the charge and accuses Russia of stopping delivery at its border with Ukraine.

Europe will see a resumption of gas with the signing of the gas monitoring protocol, which is separate from any contracts between Ukraine and Russia. However, a European Union spokesman says it will take three days to get the system in full working order.