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Russia Starts Gas Flows Via Ukraine

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia has started pumping transit gas destined for European consumers into Ukraine for the first time since a contract dispute left Europe short of fuel in freezing temperatures.

A Reuters reporter at the Moscow headquarters of Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom said an official in the company's control room issued the order for pumping stations to start sending gas into Ukraine.

"The gas started moving at 10 a.m. [0700 GMT January 13]. Everything is fine," said the official.

The gas is expected to take between 24 and 36 hours to pass into waiting European pipelines, and with Moscow and Kyiv still in dispute, there were differences over how Ukraine would ship gas to Europe while still being cut off itself.

Europe depends on Russia for one-quarter of its gas supplies and most of those volumes are shipped though Ukraine, an ex-Soviet state whose pro-Western leaders have angered the Kremlin by seeking to join the NATO military alliance.

The disruption, which left European countries scrambling to find alternative energy sources and closed many factories, has damaged the reputation of both Russia and Ukraine as reliable energy partners and prompted a search for new supply routes.

Russia cut off gas to Ukraine itself on January 1 after failing to reach agreement with Kyiv on gas fees. A week later it halted transit flows too, saying Ukraine was stealing gas intended for Europe. Kyiv accused Moscow of using energy blackmail.

The resumption came after an EU-brokered deal to deploy international monitors to strategic points along the pipeline route to reassure Russia that Ukraine was not siphoning off transit gas.