Tue, Jan 13, 2009 - Page 6 News List

More misery as gas deal fizzles

‘NULL AND VOID’ Defying the EU, Moscow refused to resume gas supplies transiting through Ukraine, sparking a new round of emergency talks in Brussels

AFP , MOSCOW

Europe’s energy crisis deepened yesterday as the failure to resolve a bitter dispute between Russia and Ukraine left hundreds of thousands enduring a second week of freezing conditions without heating gas.,

Russia defied the EU by refusing to resume gas supplies transiting through Ukraine as huge swathes of Europe froze and EU energy ministers gathered in Brussels for emergency talks.

An EU-brokered accord on terms for Russia to resume gas supply collapsed when Russia accused Ukraine of secretly altering the deal, prolonging one of Europe’s worst energy crises.

“I am ordering the government not to accept the document signed yesterday,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in televised remarks late on Sunday.

“We are obliged to consider the document signed as null and void,” he said.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who negotiated the accord on behalf of the EU presidency, had expected Russia to resume supplies immediately.

Central Europe and the Balkans suffered for a sixth consecutive day from the abrupt cut-off of Russian natural gas supplies that has left homes without heat and idled factories and schools.

“Moscow is clearly taking no prisoners and has gambled its image as a reliable supplier … to get the best economic and political benefits,” the Russian daily Vremya Novostei said.

The dispute between former Soviet giants Russia and Ukraine over gas payments and prices has raised urgent questions about the reliability of supply from Russia, which the EU relies on for a quarter of its total gas consumption.

EU energy ministers were to hold an emergency meeting in Brussels later yesterday to discuss ways to resolve the crisis and “increasing European energy security,” Czech Industry Minister Martin Riman said.

Medvedev and other senior Russian officials including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin charged that Ukraine had added phrases to the accord after it had been signed by Russia and the EU.

Putin telephoned Barroso on Sunday and informed him that the modifications introduced by Ukraine were “unacceptable” to Russia and then told Topolanek that Kiev should sign the deal again “without any additions or notes.”

European Commission spokesman Ferran Tarradellas said later that Kiev had agreed to re-sign the paperwork, although there was no confirmation from Ukraine.

The agreement in question laid out terms for international monitors to check the flow of natural gas transiting through pipelines in Ukraine that account for the bulk of Russia’s exports to customers in Europe.

Despite Russia’s assertions, Valentyn Zemlyansky, spokesman for Ukraine’s national gas company Naftogaz, was quoted by Interfax-Ukraine as saying that Kiev was still ready to resume transit of Russian gas to Europe.

“We confirm all prior guarantees on resuming transit and on having it monitored by independent observers,” he said.

Shortly before Medvedev announced Russia’s rejection of the modified agreement, the European Commission said it had “taken note of a Ukrainian declaration” it had received “in the afternoon.”

Commission spokesman Ferran Tarrabellas said, however that, for the EU at least, the declaration changed nothing in the agreement.

The controversial Ukrainian declaration, seen late on Sunday, maintains that Ukraine no longer owes money to Russia’s Gazprom and denies stealing gas intended for European customers.

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