Tue, Jan 20, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Europe skeptical over new Russia- Ukraine gas plan

AP AND AFP, LONDON AND LIVERPOOL , KIEV AND MOSCOW

The Ukrainian prime minister was heading to Moscow yesterday to sign a deal aimed at restoring gas supplies to Europe.

The Cabinet’s press office said Yulia Tymoshenko and her Russian counterpart, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, were to oversee the signing of an official agreement yesterday.

Russia cut off gas shipments to Europe via Ukraine on Jan. 7 as a dispute over gas prices sharply escalated between Kiev and Moscow.

The confrontation deeply shook Europeans’ trust in both Russia and Ukraine as reliable energy suppliers and forced over 15 countries to scramble to find alternative sources of energy.

Tymoshenko and Putin reached a preliminary deal over the weekend for Ukraine to get gas with a 20 percent discount from average European prices this year.

Meanwhile, the EU remained skeptical about an imminent end to its worst-ever gas crisis.

Millions of Europeans have been left shivering without heat in winter after gas supplies were turned off due to a bitter dispute between the two former Soviet neighbors.

The details of an accord reached by Putin and Tymoshenko on Sunday were to be worked out by the two countries’ state gas companies, Gazprom and Naftogaz.

In a joint appearance on Sunday to announce their agreement after marathon late-night talks, Putin said gas flows to Europe would resume “shortly” while Tymoshenko said the two companies had until yesterday to draw up the agreements.

The EU cautiously welcomed Sunday’s agreement, but said the real test was whether gas would start flowing again.

“We welcome the announcement of a political accord, but we are quite cautious because there have been too many broken accords and promises not kept,” a spokesman for the Czech presidency of the EU said in a statement.

In televised comments, Czech Industry Minister Martin Riman said he was only “slightly optimistic” about the deal.

“If the deliveries don’t resume despite such strong declarations by the Russian and Ukrainian prime ministers, there will be a total crash in the confidence of EU consumers, citizens and the enterprise,” he said.

Russian newspapers yesterday also expressed doubts.

Referring to Tymoshenko’s political arch-rival in Kiev, the Kommersant daily wrote: “The risk of an escalation of the conflict cannot be ruled out until the new scheme is approved by Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko.”

Yushchenko has so far been quiet on the agreement, with his office saying it needed more details before evaluating the deal.

The Vedomosti business daily said that further gas disputes could still erupt: “This conflict has a long-term dimension and it has a tendency to repeat.”

The crisis broke out Jan. 1 when Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in a dispute over unpaid debts and the price Kiev would pay for gas this year.

Crucial details of the Putin-Tymoshenko agreement, such as whether Ukraine’s debts had been settled, remained murky yesterday.

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