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Ukraine Accuses Russia Of Sabotaging Europe's Gas

A pipe of the gas-compressor station in the city of Boyarka on January 1 shows empty.
KYIV/MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for disrupting natural-gas flows to Europe and the reductions in supplies caused by their dispute spread to the Czech Republic and Turkey.

Russian gas supplies dropped by 5 percent to the Czech Republic, the latest casualty in the stand-off which began when Russia cut off the gas to Ukraine on January 1 in a dispute over debts and pricing.

"It is the first signal of the Russia-Ukraine crisis in the Czech Republic," said a spokesman for gas importer RWE Transgas.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, said gas was flowing in as normal. EU energy firms said there would be no effect on their customers as long as the disruptions did not last so long that reserves ran low. Analysts say if it drags on for weeks, it will make things tough in the EU.

Earlier, Turkey also reported a fall in supplies, joining Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, which had reported drops in supplies.

Russia -- long at odds with its neighbor over its ambition to join NATO -- has accused Kyiv of causing the disruptions by stealing volumes flowing across its territory, but Ukraine hit back by alleging Moscow was cutting flows by more than half through a key export pipeline.

"Naftohaz considers the actions of Gazprom as threatening the energy security of Ukraine and Europe, which could bring unpredictable consequences for the entire gas transit system of Europe," Ukraine's state energy company said in a statement.

"Naftohaz demands that Gazprom immediately renews the balanced supplies of gas to all transit pipelines supplying Russian gas to European consumers."

Gazprom said on January 4 it was honoring in full its commitments to supply customers in Europe, Russian media reported.

Gas flows to Germany, Europe's biggest economy, were unaffected and countries elsewhere said they had sufficient fuel stockpiled to make up for shortfalls of Russian gas for several days -- though not for weeks.

Turkey Notes Supply Drop

Turkey became the latest country to say it was feeling the impact. A senior Energy Ministry official said volumes from Russia via Ukraine had fallen 5 percent, though this had not posed any problems.

The European Union, which gets about a fifth of its gas from pipelines that cross Ukraine, has demanded that transit and supply contracts be honored. EU president the Czech Republic said it would not get involved directly in the row.

The EU has called an emergency meeting of envoys for January 5 to discuss the dispute, which has again placed Russia's reputation as a reliable gas supplier under intense scrutiny.

Russia's ties with the West are still fraught after it waged a war with Georgia last August, and the gas row is likely to be viewed in some capitals as fresh evidence that Russia bullies its pro-Western neighbors.

Russia and Ukraine's gas companies traded allegations throughout January 3, indicating the prospect of a swift resolution to the dispute -- over gas debts and pricing for supplies in 2009 -- could be remote.

With no negotiations in sight, both sides said they would bring cases against the other in the arbitration court in Stockholm.

A similar gas row briefly disrupted supplies to Europe three years ago. That crisis prompted calls for the EU to diversify its energy supplies, but it has struggled to break its reliance on Russian gas. Gazprom forecasts EU dependence will grow.