Sun, Jan 11, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Russia-Ukraine spat drags on

BIG FREEZE At least 11 people have frozen to death this week in Europe, including 10 in Poland, and 15 countries said their Russian gas supplies had stopped

AP , KIEV

Elementary school student Bela Borsy, wearing winter clothes indoors, melts some of the frost on his classroom window in Nagykallo, Hungary, on Friday, three days after Russian gas deliveries via Ukraine came to a halt. Local officials later closed the town’s schools because they could not be heated.

PHOTO: EPA

Russian and Ukrainian officials have not reached a deal leading to the resumption of Russian gas supplies, squelching hopes for an end to a dispute that has left parts of Europe in the cold and dark.

EU representatives started work in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, to monitor the flow of gas on Friday, offering an independent assessment that was critical to sealing a bargain.

But Russia said it would only restart pumping gas to Europe via Ukraine after a written deal was signed.

Russia wants monitors in place to prevent what it described as Ukraine’s theft of supplies meant for Europe — a charge Kiev hotly denies.

“Our goal is to show who is to blame for stealing gas,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said. “Such thievery can’t be left unaccountable.”

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko rejected the notion.

“Ukraine is not stealing gas,” he told reporters angrily.

Gazprom halted all natural gas shipments through Ukraine on Wednesday, ending or reducing gas supplies to more than a dozen European nations amid a pricing dispute with Kiev.

Russia in the past has sold gas to Ukraine and some other former-Soviet neighbors at prices significantly less than European prices.

Medvedev said on Friday that Ukraine should pay a European price for the Russian gas.

Last year, Russia charged Ukraine US$179.50 per 1,000m³, about half what it charged its European customers.

Russia’s last offer before talks broke down was US$250, but Gazprom said the offer no longer stands after Ukraine rejected it and that it will charge Ukraine US$450.

EU governments have criticized both Russia and Ukraine for the gas crisis, saying it was unacceptable to see homes unheated, businesses closed and schools shut down in the middle of winter because of the commercial squabble.

Russia, Ukraine and the EU said the final agreement could be finalized soon, but officials remained coy about what prevented the deal from being completed on Friday as hoped.

Ukraine’s Naftogaz state gas company spokesman Valentyn Zemlyansky said it was resisting what he described as the Russian push for control over Ukraine’s gas transportation network.

Gazprom chief executive officer Alexei Miller pledged that Gazprom would resume shipments to Europe once the monitoring teams deployed to pipeline pumping stations across Ukraine — a country roughly the size of South Africa or Texas.

But Medvedev emphasized that Russia would resume deliveries to Europe only after a written agreement was in place.

“Regrettably, we don’t have any faith left in Ukraine’s good intentions,” he said.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the EU presidency, visited Kiev on Friday to help wrap up the monitoring deal.

“We want to help overcome the crisis of confidence,” Topolanek said after talks with Yushchenko. “Russia wants to ship gas, Ukraine wants to transit it. This problem must be solved.”

Yushchenko insisted that his nation “religiously fulfills its transit mission.”

“But there is one problem: This gas must be supplied from Russia,” he said.

Ukraine had initially opposed including Russians in the EU monitoring team, but finally accepted their presence on Friday, Miller said.

Ukrainian and the EU officials confirmed that Russians officials were welcome to join the mission.

“It is now imperative that the gas starts to flow,” the EU said in a statement.

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