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With Gas Still Off, Europe Increasingly Critical Of Russia, Ukraine

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso warned Russia and Ukraine that the EU will soon begin looking for energy alternatives.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso warned Russia and Ukraine that the EU will soon begin looking for energy alternatives.

(RFE/RL) -- As Europe continues to ride out a severe cold snap, hopes of relief in the form of fresh Russian natural-gas supplies have been frozen, despite the European Union and individual European states growing more vocal in their warnings to Russia and Ukraine about the damage being done by the dispute.

Gazprom's attempt to resume supplies by sending gas to the Balkans and Turkey via Ukraine was almost immediately suspended on January 13, causing even more anxiety about heating and electricity as temperatures remain below freezing in most of Europe.

The Russian gas giant said a second attempt on January 14 to pump gas into Ukrainian pipelines headed toward Europe was also unsuccessful.

Amid the continuing crisis, hard-hit Bulgaria and Slovakia joined the line of EU countries attempting to mediate an agreement that would get the gas flowing again. The two countries' prime ministers, along with the prime minister of Moldova, met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin before traveling on to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico summed up the EU attitude when he met with Tymoshenko. "We are not interested in your bilateral relations with Russia, we are interested in the transit of Russian gas through your territory," he said.

That is also the message the EU is sending loudly and clearly from Brussels. "The damage that has been done to [Russia and Ukraine's] reputation is huge now," said Ferran Tarradellas, the spokesman for the European Commission's energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs.

"But they have a last opportunity -- a last opportunity -- to try to limit the damage they are doing to themselves," he added. "If they put gas back in the pipelines, certainly the devastating effect that this crisis is having on their credibility could be reduced."

Rising Voices

But if the EU sought to deliver a clear message, the three prime ministers visiting the feuding capitals of Moscow and Kyiv had little chance of being heard.

Instead, Fico and his counterparts -- Bulgaria's Sergey Stanislav and Moldova's Zenaida Greceanii -- found themselves in the middle of a game of name-calling that has shown little change since the gas crisis began.

Responding to the Slovak prime minister's appeal to stay focused on getting gas to Europe, Tymoshenko said: "I want to inform you that this route Russia asked to supply gas was technically impossible to provide gas to you. Ukraine is a responsible country and there is no need to remind us about responsibility. We are ready to carry out our transit functions but without a gas supply we can't do it. Ukraine is also in a difficult situation."

And in Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Putin said: "Although statements are being constantly made at the political level -- including by the Ukrainian president, Mr. [Viktor] Yushchenko -- that Ukraine is not obstructing the transit of Russian natural gas to European consumers, in practice everything looks absolutely different."

Meanwhile, the feud between Russia and Ukraine shows new signs of deepening.

Gazprom announced on January 14 that it estimates its losses from the suspension of supplies to Europe at more than $1 billion. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has echoed Putin in assigning blame for the current fiasco.

"As a result of Ukraine's irresponsible and, frankly speaking, unlawful actions, a number of European customers are now in a very difficult situation," Medvedev said.

All this leaves European customers with little to do but add more angry remarks of their own to the ill-spirited dispute.

"I would like to convey a very clear message to Moscow and Kyiv," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso declared before the European Parliament in Strasbourg earlier on January 14.

"If the agreement sponsored by the European Union is not honored as a matter of urgency, the commission will advise European companies to take this matter to the courts and call on member states to engage in a concerted action to find alternative ways of energy supply and transit," Barroso said.

EU representatives have been traveling to Russia and Ukraine since the start of the year, when negotiations between Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftohaz energy company fell apart amid Russian accusations that Ukraine was stealing gas intended for Europe and Ukrainian complaints that its debt to Gazprom was paid and that the gas giant's asking price for 2009 deliveries was exorbitant.

Technical Dispute

Following the failed attempt to resume supplies on January 13, Ukraine said Russia pumped the gas into the wrong Ukrainian pipeline, and Naftohaz chief Oleh Dubyna explained that "Unfortunately, Gazprom's proposal to pump 76 million [cubic meters of gas] through Sudzha toward Orlovka and Moldova is impossible to implement with Ukraine's gas-transit grid."

Dubyna added, "After the transit of Russian gas to Europe stopped, the Ukrainian gas-transit system has been working as a single unit. If we start pumping gas in the proposed direction to meet Gazprom's request, then we will have to leave Odesa, Donetsk Oblast, Luhansk, and, to some extent, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast without gas."

Gazprom, for its part, dismissed Ukraine's claims that it was necessary to block the Russian gas so as avoid mixing gas for Europe with gas intended for Ukrainian consumers.

"What's happening at the entry to the Ukrainian gas-transport system confirms that the statements by the Ukrainian side that they couldn't have blocked anything because they didn't have the technological capacity don't stand up to criticism," Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said. "This is exactly what it happening now. We, on our part, have opened all taps; the Ukrainian side has not."

Speaking to Russian television on January 13, Russian Prime Minister Putin took a diplomatic stance.

"Perhaps the technical condition of the Ukrainian gas-transport system is such that it is not capable of pumping gas through. This is also a possibility," Putin said. "But then it should be said openly and frankly. We need to understand what kind of transport system we're dealing with today and whether Ukraine's gas-transport system is capable today of pumping gas at all."

At a nationally televised press conference the same day, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko took a harder line, accusing Moscow of trying to stir up troubles in eastern Ukraine.

"This attack carried out on Ukraine has a number of aims," Yushchenko said. "On the one hand, to stir up the internal political situation in Ukraine and generate political activism in those regions that are especially sensitive to Russian-Ukrainian relations."
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