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Russia, Ukraine unreliable gas suppliers - Czech foreign minister

RIA Novosti

20/01/2009 18:35 BRUSSELS, January 20 (RIA Novosti) - The recent dispute between Russia and Ukraine that resulted in the disruption of gas supplies to Europe proved that Moscow and Kiev are unreliable gas suppliers, the Czech Foreign Minister said on Tuesday.

"The main lesson is that Russia and Ukraine are not reliable suppliers," Karel Schwarzenberg said.

The Czech Republic currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union.

According to Schwarzenberg, the conflict underlined the need for the EU to diversify sources and routes of gas supplies to Europe.

The Czech foreign minister said the dispute had made the Nabucco pipeline project more relevant.

The $7-8 billion Nabucco pipeline, backed by the European Union and the U.S., is expected to link energy-rich Central Asia to Europe through Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria, bypassing Russia and Ukraine. Construction has been tentatively scheduled to begin in 2010.

Russia suspended supplies to Ukraine on January 1 after the former Soviet neighbors failed to reach an agreement on a new gas contract for 2009. A week later, Gazprom cut off gas deliveries to the European Union, saying Ukraine was stealing gas intended for EU consumers. Around 20 European countries were affected by the dispute, with the EU calling the cut in supplies "completely unacceptable."

A deal to resume supplies was eventually reached early on Sunday in Moscow.

The European Commission said in a statement on Tuesday that Ukraine had opened all of its pipelines for the transit of Russian gas, and European countries have now started receiving Russian natural gas supplies.

First Slovakia, and then Hungary announced that their pipeline systems had started receiving Russian natural gas via Ukraine.

Europe is expected to receive 335 billion cubic meters of Russian gas on Tuesday.

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