Teams of EU monitors traveled to gas pumping stations along Ukraine旧 extensive pipeline network yesterday, as Russia prepared to resume natural gas shipments through Ukraine to Europe.
Ukraine signed a deal early yesterday to allow European, Russian and its own experts to track the flow of Russian gas through Ukraine pipelines. The Kremlin insisted on a written agreement on the multinational monitoring mission before it would restart gas flows.
Russia旧 state gas giant Gazprom cut off all supplies to Europe on Wednesday amid an acrimonious dispute over prices, deliveries and debts with Ukraine.
The cutoff came at a time of diplomatic tensions between the two countries, following Ukraine旧 efforts to join NATO and its support for the former Soviet republic of Georgia in its war with Russia in August. Both moves have brought bitter criticism of Kiev from Moscow.
Ukrainian officials say it could take up to three days for gas to reach European countries.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised that Moscow would resume gas shipments through Ukraine once the deal was signed and the monitors were in place.
Those monitors were to arrive at gas shipment control centers on Ukraine旧 border with Russia and with European countries yesterday, officials with Ukraine旧 state gas company Naftogaz said.
Russia demanded the monitors, saying it was the only way to prevent Ukraine from stealing Russian gas intended for Europe.
Ukraine hotly denied the accusation, saying Russia was not providing enough gas to pump the rest of the gas west to Europe.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, shuttled between Moscow and Kiev on Saturday to mediate the deal. He finally persuaded Ukraine to accept the monitoring pact during marathon talks that dragged into early yesterday.
Bohdan Sokolovsky, an energy adviser to the Ukrainian president, said it would take Russia about 30 hours to start the flow of gas and then it would take an additional 36 hours for Ukraine to pump the gas to its western borders.
Russia supplies about a quarter of the EU旧 natural gas, 80 percent of it shipped through Ukraine. The disruption has come as the continent was gripped by subfreezing temperatures. At least 11 people have frozen to death this week in Europe, including 10 in Poland, where temperatures have sunk to minus 25慢.