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Europe Growing Colder As Gas Dispute Continues

07.01.2009 11:23

(RFE/RL) -- Russian natural-gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine have come to a halt in an escalating price dispute between Moscow and Kyiv.

Ten European states have now reported complete stoppages of Russian supplies, with Austria, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Slovakia becoming the latest countries to announce they are no longer receiving any Russian gas. Other European states report cuts by two-thirds or more.

European Union member states are angrily demanding that Russia and Ukraine resolve their feud and allow gas shipments to resume.

Bulgaria, which is totally dependent on Russia for its gas supplies, has been forced to close schools and some businesses after shipments to the country were completely cut off.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, speaking at a news conference on January 6 in Sofia, expressed the frustration felt by many in Europe.

"It is clear that practically the whole European Union, especially countries from Southeast Europe, have effectively become hostages in the conflict between Gazprom and Ukraine," Stanishev said. "They have difficulty reaching agreement on a new gas contract for the year 2009. This is unacceptable for us."

As of January 6, three of four pipelines carrying Russian natural gas through Ukraine had been shut down. Early on January 7, shipments through the fourth and final pipeline were halted as well.

Ukrainian energy officials say Russia is to blame for the shutoff. Russia countered that it is Ukraine who halted the shipments.

Supplies To Households Reduced

At least 10 European states have confirmed they are no longer receiving any gas from Russia. Turkey and the Balkan states have likewise reported cutoffs.

In Serbia, there are reports that gas supplies to households are being reduced to conserve what gas Serbia has, in case the current outage becomes a protracted period of gas shortages.

In Bosnia, Adis Salkic, spokesman for the Sarajevo Gas company, said on January 6 that the process of switching to alternative sources of energy was already under way.

"All big consumers of gas and those who have the option of using alternative fuel have already started using or are preparing to use alternative fuel," Salkic said.

Despite talk only weeks ago of the EU unifying its energy policy, individual countries are already taking unilateral actions to cope with the lack of gas.

Some countries are resorting to reserves to get them through what they hope will be a short period without fresh gas imports.

The Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU Presidency, is reportedly negotiating unilaterally with Moscow to receive gas via Russia's Yamal gas pipeline that goes to Poland via Belarus.

Hungary has announced it is limiting gas supplies to factories and plants to conserve remaining gas for use in households.

Russia and Ukraine are due to resume talks on gas on January 8, but the acrimony already surrounding this dispute practically ensures that it will be difficult to reach any agreement quickly.

Russia has already pledged to try to reroute some gas via two other pipelines that avoid Ukrainian territory.

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Russian_Gas_Flow_Through_Ukraine_To_Europe_Halted/1367259.html

Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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