- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2009


Schools closed, heating shut down and nearly a dozen European nations reported a cutoff of natural-gas supplies in one of the coldest winters in recent memory.

Russia and Ukraine blamed each other in a dispute as bitter as the temperature with a cold front blanketing Europe. Thermometers fell to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit in some capitals.

“We can´t transit anything if there is nothing to transit,” said Ihor Didenko, assistant chairman of Ukraine’s Naftogaz, which operates pipelines that deliver 80 percent of Russia’s natural gas to the rest of Europe.

On a day when Orthodox Christians celebrated Christmas, Romania declared a state of emergency. Thousands of households in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, went without heat and Bulgaria turned off heating on buses and trains in Sofia.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered the state-owned energy giant Gazprom to cut all deliveries to Ukraine, and Ukrainian officials said the pipelines ran dry shortly after 7 a.m.

Mr. Putin said gas would be turned on if international observers were in place to prevent Ukraine from stealing gas destined for the rest of Europe.

Russia supplies about 40 percent of Europe’s natural gas.

The U.S. sided with Ukraine.

“Cutting off these supplies during winter to a vulnerable population is just something that is unacceptable to us,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.

National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley warned Russia that using gas for leverage over its neighbors could backfire.

“A Russia that continues to threaten its neighbors and manipulate their access to energy will compromise any aspirations for greater global influence,” he said.

Supply disruptions were reported as far west as France. European leaders called on Moscow and Kiev to resolve the conflict, while energy ministers planned to meet in Brussels on Thursday.

“Russia will resume its deliveries when the observer groups are in place,” Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek told reporters in Prague. The Czech Republic holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko called on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to end the energy embargo, which began Jan. 1 over a commercial dispute between the two nations over the price of gas.

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