Russian energy giant Gazprom early yesterday called on Ukraine to resume negotiations in a row that has seen Moscow cutting off all gas to its neighbor, accusing it of siphoning off supplies meant for Europe.
The appeal came as Kiev warned the EU the bloc could face “serious problems” with Russian gas deliveries transiting its territory.
“Since Dec. 31 Ukraine has refused to negotiate with Gazprom and has resorted to siphoning off gas intended for European consumers, in violation of its obligations as a country of transit,” Gazprom deputy chief executive Alexander Medvedev said in a statement. “We call on Ukraine to refrain from these illegal acts and to return to Moscow to negotiate, once and for all, a transaction on gas delivery that will be acceptable to the two sides.”
In what was seen as a softening of Gazprom’s position, Medvedev said: “We are ready to meet them immediately.”
On Saturday, Gazprom had announced it had decided to file a lawsuit against Ukraine’s state gas firm Naftogaz to ensure transit of Russian gas through Ukrainian territory to Europe.
“It’s not just a threat but a reality, they are stealing gas from the pipelines and underground facilities,” Medvedev said after talks in Berlin.
Medvedev, on a whistle-stop tour of European capitals to explain the Russian side of the gas dispute, said negotiating with Ukrainians was “like having a talk with people from the planet Mars.”
Naftogaz rebutted by warning it would file a counter-complaint if Gazprom made good its threat, Interfax-Ukraine reported.
Ukraine warned on Saturday that the gas conflict with Russia could lead to serious problems for Europe within 10 days.
Several EU states were already reporting shortfalls of up to 10 percent in Russian gas being piped through Ukraine, as the effects of the standoff between Moscow and Kiev began to be felt beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union.
As the war of words intensified after Moscow turned off the tap on Thursday, Russia accused Ukraine of stealing gas intended for Europe, while Ukraine alleged that Russia was under-supplying the EU.
Medvedev accused Kiev of stealing 35 million cubic meters of Russian gas a day intended for Europe.
“All the gas which was illegally taken will have to be paid for,” on top of the US$600 million outstanding in other debts, he told reporters in the Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU presidency.
Naftogaz denied the charge, claiming the Russians are not delivering the due quantities to European clients.
Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller told a management meeting that Gazprom would be pumping additional gas to European customers via pipelines that circumvent Ukraine.
“In these circumstances, Gazprom is obliged to supply additional volumes of gas via other transport corridors,” he said.