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Russia, EU Sign Deal On Gas Monitors

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek

Russian and European Union officials have signed a deal on monitoring gas transit across Ukraine.

The signing came after an EU mediation team met Russian officials outside Moscow in a bid to resolve the dispute between Russia and Ukraine over deliveries of natural gas to Europe.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek led the mediation team, with his country currently holding the European Union's rotating presidency.

The ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as confirming that the deal has been signed.

Putin also said gas will flow to Europe once an EU monitoring team is launched to watch over the deliveries. The Russian prime minister warned that once gas deliveries are resumed, Moscow could halt them again if it sees any "theft" by Ukraine.

The deal, which would allow EU, Ukrainian, and Russian observers to monitor the gas supplies flowing through Ukraine, must still be signed by Kyiv to come into force.

Topolanek's trip to Moscow to meet with Putin is the latest diplomatic attempt to resume Russian gas supplies to Europe.

Supplies of Russian gas to Europe have been cut off since January 6 due to a dispute between Ukraine and Russia over debt and the price of future gas supplies.

As justification for cutting those gas supplies, Russia has accused Ukraine of siphoning off gas intended for European customers, a charge Ukraine has denied.

Topolanek told Putin he had reached a verbal agreement with Ukrainian officials last on January 9 on the deployment of monitors to check that the amount of gas entering Ukraine from Russia would be the same as the amount exiting Ukraine on its way to destinations in Europe.

Putin welcomed the news but noted there were other signals coming from Kyiv.

"As I have just been informed, the Ukrainian side has given verbal agreement but I also know that yesterday the Kyiv Economic Court rendered a decision forbidding the transit of Russian gas through the territory of Ukraine," Putin said.

Putin added that any agreement would not be considered valid until it was signed: "I hope that you have succeeded in convincing Kyiv, the Ukrainian partners, about the necessity of signing the appropriate documents."

Technical Details

In Ukraine late last night, Topolanek said only a few details needed to be worked out to get the gas flowing again.

"Some technical details remain to be fine-tuned in a way to remove the last doubts and to replace a crisis of confidence with confidence that the gas that the Russians want to send and Ukraine wants to transit, reaches its destination," Topolanek said.

Topolanek also voiced EU frustration at the suspension of gas supplies while Europe endures freezing temperatures: "I would like to add that in the current situation Ukraine is losing a reputation of a reliable transit route and the Russian Federation is losing its reputation as a reliable exporter."

Some international monitors arrived in Ukraine on January 9 and more will arrive in Ukraine and Russia once the final details of the monitoring mission are concluded.

Topolanek said on January 10 he would remain "in the region" until a deal is reached and gas supplies resume.

For many in Europe that agreement cannot come too soon.

Gas officials in the EU, Ukraine, and Russia have all confirmed that even when an agreement is reached it could take several days before the pipelines are filled and gas starts reaching EU countries in significant amounts.

Temperatures in most parts of Europe remained below freezing on January 10. In Eastern and Central Europe, many factories have shut down temporarily, schools have closed, and gas supplies to households have been rationed.

with agency reports