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EU Announces Breakthrough In Russia-Ukraine Gas Crisis

  • Ahto Lobjakas

It will take up to three days to get the gas flowing to all of Russia's customers in Europe.

It will take up to three days to get the gas flowing to all of Russia's customers in Europe.

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission says its President Jose Manuel Barroso and Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have agreed terms to end the gas crisis in Europe in the course of a phone call.

Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde said Putin had "promised" to reopen natural-gas taps for transit through Ukraine to Europe as soon as teams of monitors are in place at Ukraine's borders with Russia and the EU.

Ahrenkilde said that under the deal reached, Russian will send monitors to Ukraine and Ukraine to Russia. The EU will send its own observers to both countries. An advance team of EU observers arrived in Kyiv on January 9 at 2 p.m. local time.

Ahrenkilde said the EU expects Russia to start preparations to resume gas deliveries already now.

The European Commission's energy spokesman, Ferran Tarradellas, said Gazprom officials had told an ongoing meeting of EU gas experts in Brussels earlier that it will take 30 hours for gas to reach Ukraine from the moment the taps are reopened in Russia.

Representatives of Ukraine's Naftohaz told the same meeting it will take 36 hours for the gas to reach EU from the moment it arrives at Ukraine's border with Russia.

Tarradellas said this means it will take three days for gas shortages in Europe to be relieved.

He also said the EU expects Russia and Ukraine to now address the underlying pricing dispute so that European countries can in future be ensured uninterrupted and reliable gas deliveries.

After-Effects Of Crisis

EU officials privately say they are at a loss as to Russia's motives in allowing its pricing dispute with Ukraine to affect gas deliveries to Europe, its biggest market. Many EU politicians have publicly said Moscow has done irreparable damage to its reputation as a trusted supplier.

Officials in Brussels speculate that Moscow may be hoping to fatally discredit Ukraine's image in Europe. This view was partially borne out by Putin, who launched a broad diatribe against Ukraine at a gas-themed news conference on January 8.

"Today's situation is such that the current Ukrainian leadership is not able to organize a normal, transparent, functioning economy based on market principals," Putin said.

"Moreover, with its actions it hurts the Ukrainian people and damages the prestige of Ukraine, and this proves once again that we are witnessing a political collapse in Ukraine," he continued. "Unfortunately, it shows a high level of corruption inside its power structures."

Brussels also believes Russia may be hoping the Ukraine dispute may force the EU to refocus its attention -- and funding -- on its pet project, the Baltic Sea Nord Stream pipeline terminating in Germany.

But EU officials say a more likely effect of the crisis will be to push Brussels to drastically speed up plans for the Nabucco pipeline, which is designed to provide the EU with direct access to the gas reserves of countries surrounding the Caspian Sea.