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Russia, Ukraine Envoys In Brussels For Gas Talks With EU

08.01.2009 16:00

PRAGUE (RFE/RL) -- The natural-gas dispute between Moscow and Kyiv is leading the European agenda, with a chaotic flurry of meetings scheduled in Brussels and Prague.

The January 8 talks follow an overnight meeting between the chief executives of Russia's Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftohaz energy firms -- their first since the dispute began on January 1.

Few details have been released from the meeting between Gazprom's Aleksei Miller and his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleh Dubyna.

Speaking at the European Parliament, Dubyna said he had urged the quick resumption of gas shipments to Europe.

"The first thing that we discussed yesterday in Moscow -- and that was a request of the Ukrainian side, not a condition -- was that we wanted to have Russian gas transit to Europe urgently renewed," Dubyna said. "Ukraine is oblgated to transfer all the gas that it gets to its western borders.

"But in order to support the gas-transit system, it is necessary to use some amount of gas for compressor plants and all the equipment," he continued. "So we want you to understand that ensuring gas transit to Europe also means there will be some 'technical' gas used in order to get gas to Europe."

The "technical" gas Dubyna is referring to appears to be one source of the ongoing dispute.

Keeping Gas Moving

Twenty-one million cubic meters (mcm) of gas needs to be added to volume daily in order to keep gas moving through the pipeline.

Heinz Hilbrecht, the European Commission's director in charge of energy-supply security, said on January 8 that Gazprom's and Naftohaz's transit contract stipulates that responsibility for providing the 21 mcm falls to Ukraine.

Hilbrecht said Naftohaz thus appears to be in violation of its contractual agreement by diverting the 21 mcm it was obliged to contribute to the pipeline volume. But he said Russia's decision to turn off all gas shipments to Europe was not an appropriate response.

Hilbrecht also noted that Gazprom is content to supply other transit countries -- such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia -- with the extra gas needed to keep transit volumes flowing.

"We would expect that Gazprom as a reliable partner for European companies shows goodwill," he said, suggesting the Russian company should back down on this issue.

European officials signaled on January 8 that they will be ready in the next several days to send independent gas experts to monitor pumping stations in both Russia and Ukraine.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who spoke on January 7 with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Yulia Tymoshenko, said each had given him the go-ahead to send in a monitoring team.

'Day Or Two'

Hilbrecht said on January 8 that it would take a "day or two" for the EU to select the proper personnel for the delegation, and indicated that the bloc would want to receive an ironclad assurance that gas shipments would be resumed before it sends out its observers. It will take approximately 36 hours for pressure levels to normalize in Europe after Gazprom resumes the flow of gas.

Moscow has accused Kyiv of diverting gas destined for European markets, and on January 7 shut off all shipments. Kyiv has countered that it is Moscow that was responsible for reducing gas volumes to begin with.

At a meeting of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee earlier on January 8, Chairman Jacek Saryusz-Wolski said Europe will not take sides in the dispute, but that it is determined to see its energy security guaranteed by the warring sides.

"This commercial dispute, as it was perceived at the very beginning, has transformed itself into a serious energy-security crisis," he said. "More than half of the member states of the union are already concerned and suffer."

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Hrihoriy Nemyra and the head of Russia's parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachyov, attended the European Parliament session, as did Dubyna.

Miller is due to meet later in the day with European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

Cautious Optimism

EU foreign ministers are gathering for separate talks in the Czech capital, Prague.

Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra expressed cautious optimism about a breakthrough as a result of the January 8 talks.

European authorities are livid over dwindling gas supplies and a mounting heating crisis.

Bulgaria, Serbia, and other countries in Southeastern Europe are continuing to take emergency measures to address massive heating shortages. Countries as far west as France and Germany have been forced to tap into reserves.

The EU relies on Russia for around one-quarter of all the natural gas it consumes, 80 percent of which passes through Ukrainian pipelines.

Both Kyiv and Moscow have sought the EU's support in the dispute. But Brussels has refused to take sides, saying both countries are putting their credibility as reliable business partners at risk by failing to resolve the feud.

RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas contributed to this report from Brussels

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Russia_Ukraine_Hold_Gas_Dispute_Talks_In_Moscow/1367662.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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