Sunday, January 18, 2009

MOSCOW | A Kremlin conference on the gas crisis gripping Europe failed Saturday to produce an agreement to restore supplies of Russian natural gas via Ukraine.

After meeting with European and Ukrainian officials, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart would continue bilateral talks late Saturday in an effort to end the dispute that has blocked shipments across Ukraine. He said he hoped that gas will begin flowing again within days.

“I’m certain that we will resolve the transit problem in the nearest future,” Mr. Medvedev told a news conference after the meeting. He said the meeting had been “useful.”

The gas cutoff has left homes in Europe without heat and forced factories to shut or slow production. Ukraine’s pipeline network normally carries about 80 percent of the Russian gas that goes to Europe — about one-fifth of the gas Europe uses.

The European Union has threatened to review its relations with both Russia and Ukraine if the dispute is not resolved this weekend.

But with each side adamant the other is to blame, there was no sign a solution to the dispute was imminent.

Before flying to Moscow for the talks, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko acknowledged that her country’s image had been damaged by the dispute, but she said reaching a deal to restore supplies would be extremely difficult.

Mr. Putin, in Germany early Saturday, reiterated Russian accusations that Ukraine has stolen gas and is trying to use its control over pipelines to win unreasonably low prices for the Russian gas it uses domestically.

Mr. Putin and Mrs. Tymoshenko met briefly before joining top EU energy officials and government officials from other European and ex-Soviet nations in the Kremlin for what had been billed as a summit with European gas-consuming nations.

No EU heads of state attended. The EU was represented by the 27-nation bloc’s Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and Czech Energy Minister Martin Riman, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

Russia has been enlisting European gas companies for a consortium that could end the crisis by paying for gas needed to get Ukraine’s pipeline up and running and ensure deliveries.

Mr. Medvedev said that proposal was still on the table, but it was not clear whether Ukraine would agree. An aide to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who refused to come to Russia for the conference, earlier this week dismissed the idea as a Kremlin attempt to acquire control of Ukraine’s pipeline network.

An alternative, Mr. Medvedev said, would be a credit in a European bank that would be used to ensure Ukraine pays for gas.

Russia stopped shipping gas to Ukraine for domestic use on Jan. 1 when the countries could not agree on a price. It then accused Ukraine of siphoning off gas bound for Europe and turned off the taps entirely on Jan. 7.

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