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No Russian Gas in Eastern Europe Despite EU Agreement

Russia said Saturday it was willing to resume natural gas deliveries to Europe through Ukraine - following an agreement with the European Union that calls for independent observers to monitor the flow of Russian gas. However, Moscow says gas supplies will not resume, unless Kyiv signs an agreement allowing Russian experts to be part of the E.U.mission that monitors the gas flows.

The first group of E.U. observers arrived in Kyiv to help settle the dispute between Ukraine and Russia over natural gas deliveries that has effected some 20 countries.

Among them is Filip Cornelis, assistant to the European Commission's director-general of Transport and Energy.

He said his team wants to monitor the resumption of deliveries of Russian natural gas from Russian energy giant Gazprom to Europe, via Ukraine, as soon as possible. "The purpose of our monitoring mission is to verify the flows of gas coming into the Ukrainian system and be able to compare them on an independent basis with the seizes of flows of gas which reach the European customers with whom Gazprom has a commercial contract," he said.

Despite the agreement with Russia, European monitors did not see any Russian deliveries Saturday.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told visiting Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek that Ukraine should first sign an accord that would allow Russians to be part of the observers. His comments were translated by Russia Today television. "I hope you have managed to persuade our Ukrainian partners that it is necessary to sign the documents [related] to our necessary of Russian gas in transit from Ukraine. The documents should define the principals and the list of participants," he said.

Mr. Topolanek suggested that the E.U. already has a verbal agreement with Ukraine that enables Russians to monitor gas flows.

European Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen, says Russia's energy giant Gazprom must meet its commercial obligations. "There is now agreement on the details of the monitoring mission. And it is therefore, as [EU] President Barosso has also stated, imperative that the gas starts to flow to the European Union without any further delay," he said.

Moscow halted deliveries via Ukraine to Europe this week, saying Kyiv was stealing natural gas to make up for shortfalls -- a charge Ukrainian officials strongly deny.

Russia shut off gas deliveries to Ukraine on New Year's Day because of alleged unpaid bills of over $2 billion. Russian energy giant Gazprom is demanding $450 per 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas for future deliveries to Ukraine, nearly twice the amount offered by Kyiv.

The dispute has had a dramatic impact in Eastern Europe, including in Hungary, where public institutions such as schools and clinics were closed Saturday because of gas shortages.

At least a dozen people have frozen to death in Eastern Europe, where hundreds of thousands of people are now without heat this unseasonably cold winter.