Ukraine's government ordered a cut in the use of gas on Tuesday as a cold snap sent consumption in this key transit country for Russian gas to record levels, leaving several European countries short of supplies.
The government had ordered regional governments to cut gas usage by 15 percent, the fuel and energy ministry said in a statement, adding that industrial consumers have also been ordered to cut back on fuel use.
"We are forced to decrease gas consumption," Prime Minister Yury Yekhanurov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Ukraine, the main transport route for Russian gas to Europe, has been using record amounts of energy during the past several days because of plunging temperatures, exceeding volumes foreseen in contracts with Russia's state-owned Gazprom energy giant.
"We can't have such an excess," Yekhanurov said.
The increase in consumption led Gazprom to accuse Ukraine of keeping some of Moscow's gas exports to Europe for itself.
"Our warnings and demands that the Ukrainian side limit their consumption to the amount specified in the contracts and the Ukrainian side's announcement that it would be done shortly so far led to the contrary," Gazprom's spokesman Sergei Kupryanov said on Tuesday, as quoted by the RIA-Novosti news agency.
Gazprom said on Tuesday that it would increase gas deliveries to Europe via pipelines through Belarus and Turkey, which bypass Ukraine.
"The situation now is very complicated. Ukraine indeed uses more gas now than foreseen by preliminary agreements with our Russian partners, but there are objective reasons for this ... very low temperatures," Ukraine's Energy and Fuel Minister Ivan Plachkov said on Tuesday, as quoted by the Interfax news agency.
A Ukrainian government said on Tuesday that Russia had agreed to Kiev's increased amounts of gas use.
"It was agreed ... and everything was going well even though Ukraine had for several days used gas in excess of contractual amounts," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"I don't know why [Gazprom] made the statement ... we had an agreement with Gazprom of non-aggression, of mutual silence ... maybe they received hysterical calls from European customers," the official said.
The official said that the severe temperature drop had forced Ukraine to increase its gas consumption to record levels of 407 million cubic meters per day.
"If we had shut off gas people would have simply frozen to death," the official said.
Like Russia, Ukraine has been gripped by a severe cold snap for a week, which has left at least 77 people dead, including 26 during the past 24 hours.
The plunging temperatures have also reached Europe, which receives about 25 percent of its gas from Russia, and a handful of countries there have recorded a drop in supplies from Moscow over the past several days.
On Tuesday, Italy's biggest gas importer ENI said that it expected Russian gas deliveries to come up short of demand for an eighth day in a row, with volumes due to drop by 8.1 percent, or about 1.4 percent of Italy's daily consumption.
Romania also said Russian gas deliveries came short of demand on Tuesday as several neighborhoods in the capital Bucharest, where gas demand has nearly doubled in the last few days as temperatures dropped to minus 30oC, remained without heat.
During the past several days, Poland and Bosnia have also registered drops in Russian gas supplies.