Brussels to broker gas row talks

Top Russian and Ukrainian gas executives are due in Brussels as the EU seeks to broker an end to the row freezing much of Europe’s gas supplies.

Both Alexei Miller, chief of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, and Ukrainian state gas company head Oleh Dubyna are set to meet EU officials.

Some EU states are getting no gas at all or have seen supplies sharply cut.

Ukraine denies Russian accusations that it is stealing gas passing through export pipelines on its territory.

Russia cut gas to Ukraine itself a week ago as a row over allegedly unpaid bills escalated.

The EU depends on Russia for about a quarter of its total gas supplies, some 80% of which are pumped via Ukraine.

Brussels has so far avoided taking sides in the dispute, calling only for deliveries to resume urgently, the BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse reports from Kiev.

Apart from the immediate question of who is to blame, Kiev and Moscow have fundamental disagreements over how much Ukraine owes Russia for last year’s gas and how much it should pay this year, our correspondent adds.

Monitor proposal

It is unclear whether Mr Miller and Mr Dubyna will meet face to face.

Both say they are willing to talk but in public the rhetoric remains bitter, our correspondent notes.

The Ukrainian gas chief had been due to attend talks in Moscow on Thursday but the meeting was scrapped in favour of the visit to Brussels, a Ukrainian spokesman said.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has accused Moscow and Kiev of both taking the EU’s gas supply “hostage” and urged them to resume supplies immediately.

He said the EU was ready to send monitors to the Russian-Ukrainian border and Ukrainian exit points to determine where gas shortfalls originated.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Grigory Nemyria placed the blame for the row squarely at Russia’s door.

“If there is something to transit of course Ukraine was committed to ensure uninterrupted transit of the Russian gas to Europe but there is no gas at all as we found out today then it speaks for itself,” he told the BBC.

Moscow counters that Kiev is to blame, saying that Ukraine has blocked the pipelines that transport gas further west and has been syphoning off gas for its own use.

Nuclear U-turn?

On Wednesday, heating systems shut down in some parts of central Europe, as outdoor temperatures plunged to -10C or lower.

The list of countries that reported a total halt of Russian supplies via Ukraine included Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Serbia, and Austria.

Italy said it had received only 10% of its expected supply.

Many other countries are now tapping strategic reserves, built up to cope with just such a development, says the BBC’s central Europe correspondent, Nick Thorpe.

Power stations have been told to switch to fuel oil where possible, while big industrial users have been told to prepare to limit or halt use.

There have also been calls for Soviet-era nuclear plants to be restarted in Bulgaria and Slovakia.

Source: BBC

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