- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Russia’s state gas monopoly has promised to resume shipping Europe-bound gas through Ukraine on Tuesday morning, nearly a week after it shut off the taps and forced countless Europeans to huddle cold and resentful in freezing homes.

However, a spokesman for the Gazprom monopoly indicated lingering problems could still prolong the crisis.

More than 15 countries have been the inadvertent victims of a complex and acrimonious wrangle between Russia and Ukraine over gas prices, past debts and allegations of theft. They also jockeyed over an EU-brokered deal to send pipeline monitors to ensure that restored gas shipments reach their destination.

Russia balked at the deal after Ukraine tried to add a rider declaration that offended Moscow. Ukrainian government officials clarified the deal Monday and said the declaration was not legally binding.

After that, the deputy chairman of the Gazprom monopoly, Alexander Medvedev, said gas supplies would be started Tuesday morning “if there are no obstacles.”

That could be a significant caveat given the recent sparring between Moscow and Kiev.

“Supplies could be restored tomorrow morning, but we remain realistic. In the last 10 days, there have been quite a few hopeful moments,” Czech Energy Minister Martin Riman said at a European Union news conference in Brussels.

Russia shut off all gas to Ukrainian pipelines Wednesday, accusing Ukraine of siphoning off gas intended for downstream countries. About 20 percent of all the gas consumed in Europe comes from Russia through pipelines that cross Ukraine.

Ukraine denies the siphoning charge, but Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said Ukraine will have to use some gas from Russia as so-called “technical gas” to power compressors that push Europe-bound gas through the pipelines.

The gas cutoff has affected more than 15 countries, with Bosnia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia among the worst hit. Sales of electric heaters have soared and thousands of businesses in Eastern Europe have been forced to cut production or even shut down.

Russia and Ukraine remained deadlocked over the price Ukraine should pay for gas in 2009 and the amount Russia should pay for transporting gas through Ukraine. Russia stopped supplying gas to Ukraine on Jan. 1 over the price dispute.

Ukraine in 2008 paid $179.50 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas and turned down Gazprom’s proposal of $250 for 2009 - a substantial increase for the economically distressed country but still far below the $450 that European customers pay.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko in a Monday phone call that Russia will now insist on Ukraine paying the full market price, Russian news agencies reported.

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