- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2009

MOSCOW | Russia and Ukraine hotly blamed each other Tuesday as Russia restarted natural-gas supplies but little or no gas flowed toward Europe. EU officials criticized both nations for their intransigence, and Eastern European nations scrambled for a sixth day to find heat.

Russia’s state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom said it began pumping gas to Europe at 10 a.m. Tuesday after cutting off supplies Jan. 7 amid a pricing dispute with Ukraine.

But European Union officials said no gas was flowing, and their monitors were not allowed full access to either nation’s gas-control rooms, so outside experts could not figure out what was going on or who was to blame.

Amid freezing winter weather, a war of words erupted.

Gazprom claimed Ukraine was stealing the gas and taking orders from the United States in the crisis. Ukraine accused Russia of sending the gas on a nearly impossible journey from incompatible pipelines and of using the crisis to try to wrest control of Ukraine’s vast pipeline network.

In the meantime, several European nations were growing desperate. Bulgaria has lost all of its gas supplies and has only two days’ worth of reserves. Slovakia, which has lost 97 percent of its gas supplies, vowed Tuesday it was ready to restart an aging Soviet nuclear power plant despite EU objections.

Gazprom’s deputy chairman, Alexander Medvedev, claimed Tuesday that Ukraine’s pipeline system had failed to carry gas on to Europe. Russia supplies about one-quarter of the EU’s natural gas, 80 percent of it shipped through Ukraine’s vast pipeline network.

“Ukraine didn’t open any export pipelines,” he told reporters. “We don’t have the physical opportunity to pump the gas to European customers.”

Underscoring political tensions behind the gas dispute, Mr. Medvedev accused Washington of encouraging Ukraine’s defiance. “It looks like they are dancing to music that is orchestrated not in Ukraine,” he said Tuesday.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the Russian accusation “bizarre … totally without foundation.”

Ukrainian energy adviser Bohdan Sokolovsky said Russia deliberately shipped the gas along a technically arduous route that requires Ukraine to cut out domestic consumers before it can deliver gas to the Balkans.

He said a gas entry point on the Russian border at Sudzha and a gas pumping station near the Romanian border where Gazprom wants its gas delivered are not linked by an export pipeline.

Mr. Medvedev insisted that Russia deliberately chose Sudzha because it is an export pipeline with direct access to nations hard-hit in the dispute, including Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.

Russia stopped gas supplies to Ukraine itself on Jan. 1 as it pressured Kiev to pay more for the gas.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke to his Bulgarian and Slovak counterparts, urging them to increase the pressure on Ukraine to ensure gas flow to Europe. Both are flying to Moscow on Wednesday to discuss the crisis, Mr. Putin said.

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