EU leaders kept up pressure yesterday on Russia and Ukraine to resolve their gas dispute after an attempt to resume transit supply failed to deliver gas to European consumers.
As hundreds of thousands of Europeans begin a second week with little or no heat in their homes, offices or schools, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev and Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico were due in Moscow to meet their Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on the gas crisis.
Both countries are among those to have been badly hit by the gas crisis, which has continued despite EU efforts to broker a solution.
The Ukrainian government said in a statement that the two European prime ministers would also visit Kiev later yesterday for talks with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Russia resumed gas supplies on Tuesday after international experts were placed along the pipeline route through Ukraine under an agreement reached with the EU, only to shut off them off again several hours later.
Gazprom accused Ukraine of blocking the gas, while Ukraine countered that the Russian energy giant had deliberately routed the gas in a way that made it impossible for Ukraine to pump it on to European consumers.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU was disappointed in a phone conversation with Putin after the EU reported “little or no gas” reaching Europe from Russia.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko accused Russia of trying to destabilize his country as energy officials explained they would have to cut domestic gas supplies in order to get Russian gas to Europe.
“This attack against Ukraine has the goal of provoking a revolt in the eastern regions,” a heavily industrialized and pro-Russian part of the country that relies to a large degree on Russian gas supplies, Yushchenko said.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s state gas company, Naftogaz, said the transit route chosen by Gazprom “would have required us to stop supplying gas to [the] eastern part of Ukraine,” adding that Gazprom turned down an alternative route.
However Gazprom’s deputy chief executive Alexander Medvedev told journalists shortly after Russia announced that supplies had resumed that “Ukraine has blocked all our actions in respect of renewal of the transit of natural gas, which is unbelievable.”
In Brussels, EU commission spokesman for energy issues Ferran Tarradellas said the international monitors had since been allowed into the control rooms where the gas flow monitoring screens are located.
“The Russians sent a small quantity of gas this morning at a single point, then the pressure fell and there was nothing after that,” he said.
“Not a single molecule of gas has arrived at other entry points, according to our inspectors,” he said.
Russia said it would initially pump only “test” amounts of gas on Tuesday, which would however have been enough to restore full supplies to Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania and Turkey.