Kyiv Scrambles To Stem Gas Crisis
January 02, 2009
(RFE/RL) -- A Ukrainian delegation has left for a hastily arranged tour of the European Union to press Kyiv's calls for Brussels to mediate in its gas dispute with Moscow, as Russian media report that a cut-off of gas intended for Ukraine enters its second day.
The delegation, led by Energy Minister Yuri Prodan, is to first meet with Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the Czech Republic, which took over the rotating EU presidency on January 1, before heading to other European capitals.
Talks between Kyiv and Moscow collapsed this week, prompting Gazprom on January 1 to sharply curb supplies to Ukraine while announcing an increase in gas bound for Europe via Ukraine.
Ukrainian pipelines carry approximately 80 percent of the Russian gas bound for the EU.
AFP has quoted a gas company spokeswoman in Slovakia, a key link in a major gas-pipeline route to Central Europe, as saying, "there has been no cut in gas supplies [and] SPP's gas-transit unit, Eustream, is working without any problems."
Moscow had been threatening for months to cut Ukraine off over billions of dollars in outstanding gas debts and a failure to agree on a price for gas shipments in 2009.
An energy adviser to Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko signaled Kyiv's distrust of Russia's motives. Oleksandr Hudyma told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that Moscow's "main aim" all along has been to force Ukraine to keep its transit fees for Russian gas well below European rates. Hudyma said that maintaining a balance between the price it pays for Russian gas and the rate it charges Gazprom for transit is "of strategic importance" to Kyiv.
EU leaders have urged further negotiations to resolve the squabble.
"The [EU] Presidency and the [European] Commission urge both sides and their governments to continue negotiations and rapidly reach a successful outcome so that gas supplies to the EU are not affected," new EU president the Czech Republic and the European Commission said in a joint statement on January 1.
But EU officials have appeared eager to avoid direct participation in what they characterize as a strictly "commercial dispute."
"First of all, these are for us negotiations on a contractual, commercial dispute between Gazprom and Naftogaz -- and it's up to both sides to continue their talks to resolve the dispute," Christiane Hohmann, a spokeswoman for EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service after the cut-off.
Hohmann expressed concern over European gas deliveries, however, saying that "there are contractual commitments between EU member states and gas suppliers in Russia, and these contractual commitments must be honored."
The EU gets roughly one-quarter of its natural gas, and about 40 percent of its imported gas, from Russia, with some countries almost entirely dependent on those supplies.
The Ukrainian delegation led by Energy Minister Prodan includes Deputy Foreign Minister Kostiantin Eliseyev and the deputy head of state gas firm Naftohaz, Vadim Chuprun.
"The main aim of the tour is to present the necessary explanations to EU member countries over the situation, to give guarantees on the transit over Ukrainian territory, and [to] consult European specialists about the negotiations," President Viktor Yushchenko's representative on energy security Bogdan Sokolovsky was quoted as saying by AFP.
with additional wire reporting
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.