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Russia-Ukraine Gas Crisis Begins To Impact European Markets


A gas-compressor station in the Ukrainian city of Boyarka on January 1
(RFE/RL) -- European countries began to feel the impact of Russia and Ukraine's gas dispute, as the Czech presidency of the European Union called an extraordinary meeting of envoys from the bloc for January 5 to discuss the crisis.

Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom said some Balkan countries are not receiving the full amount of gas they requested, and importers in Hungary and Poland said pressure on their pipelines had dropped, Reuters reported. But a Hungarian gas industry spokeswoman said the drop was not yet critical.

Poland said deliveries from Ukraine had dropped 6 percent but were being made up by deliveries through Belarus, Reuters reported.

In Moscow, Gazprom officials accused Kyiv of stealing small amounts of the gas supplies intended for European markets but routed through Ukraine.

But Valentyn Zemlyansky, a spokesman for Ukraine's gas company, Naftohaz, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that Ukraine is not stealing gas, and is actually using gas from its own reserves to continue supplies to Europe.

"Ukraine is fulfilling all its duties to European consumers and to Gazprom. There are no problems as of today," Zemlyansky said. "According to the operational data, from 4 p.m., January 1st, to 4 p.m., January 2nd, Ukraine has additionally used 17 million cubic meters of gas from its own resources and sent it to European consumers. Out of this, 10 million [cubic meters] went to the West and 7 million were used to support the [gas transit] system."

EU envoys will address the crisis in an extraordinary meeting on January 5, to be held at deputy ambassador level in Brussels, Reuters reported. The Czech Republic announced the decision as a Ukrainian delegation on January 2 began a European tour to press Brussels to mediate in its row with Moscow. The delegation, led by Energy Minister Yuri Prodan, met first with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek before heading to other European capitals.

Second Day Of Cuts

Talks between Kyiv and Moscow collapsed this week, prompting Gazprom on January 1 to sharply curb supplies to Ukraine while announcing an increase in gas bound for Europe via Ukraine.

Ukrainian pipelines carry approximately 80 percent of the Russian gas bound for the EU.

AFP quoted a gas company spokeswoman in Slovakia, a key link in a major gas-pipeline route to Central Europe, as saying, "there has been no cut in gas supplies [and] SPP's gas-transit unit, Eustream, is working without any problems."

Russia had been threatening for months to cut Ukraine off over billions of dollars in outstanding gas debts and a failure to agree on a price for gas shipments in 2009.

An energy adviser to Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko signaled Kyiv's distrust of Russia's motives. Oleksandr Hudyma told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that Moscow's "main aim" all along has been to force Ukraine to keep its transit fees for Russian gas well below European rates. Hudyma said that maintaining a balance between the price it pays for Russian gas and the rate it charges Gazprom for transit is "of strategic importance" to Kyiv.

EU leaders have urged further negotiations to resolve the squabble.

"The [EU] Presidency and the [European] Commission urge both sides and their governments to continue negotiations and rapidly reach a successful outcome so that gas supplies to the EU are not affected," new EU president the Czech Republic and the European Commission said in a joint statement on January 1.

But EU officials have appeared eager to avoid direct participation in what they characterize as a strictly "commercial dispute."

"First of all, these are for us negotiations on a contractual, commercial dispute between Gazprom and Naftogaz -- and it's up to both sides to continue their talks to resolve the dispute," Christiane Hohmann, a spokeswoman for EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service after the cut-off.

Hohmann expressed concern over European gas deliveries, however, saying that "there are contractual commitments between EU member states and gas suppliers in Russia, and these contractual commitments must be honored."

The EU gets roughly one-quarter of its natural gas, and about 40 percent of its imported gas, from Russia, with some countries almost entirely dependent on those supplies.

The Ukrainian delegation led by Energy Minister Prodan includes Deputy Foreign Minister Kostiantin Eliseyev and the deputy head of state gas firm Naftohaz, Vadim Chuprun.

"The main aim of the tour is to present the necessary explanations to EU member countries over the situation, to give guarantees on the transit over Ukrainian territory, and [to] consult European specialists about the negotiations," President Viktor Yushchenko's representative on energy security Bogdan Sokolovsky was quoted as saying by AFP.

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report. With additional wire reporting.

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