Russian gas monopoly Gazprom accused the Ukraine on Wednesday of planning to siphon off gas that Russia transits through Ukrainian territory to the European Union, as a payment dispute escalated.
The giant Russian company had been informed by Ukrainian firm Naftogaz that ”within 24 hours deliveries of gas to European customers will be reduced by 60-million cubic metres” per day, Gazprom spokesperson Sergei Kupriyanov said on national television.
Ukraine planned to divert gas delivered to its border by Russia, he said.
The amount of gas he named, 60-million cubic metres, represents about 17% of total daily Russian transit supplies earmarked for Europe going through Ukraine — said by Gazprom on Tuesday to total 356,6-million cubic metres.
The warning came despite a guarantee reportedly made by Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko that supplies to the European Union would not be affected.
”Ukraine is a reliable partner and we will not violate our obligations in the area of transport and export of gas to the EU countries,” Tymoshenko was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying at a Cabinet meeting.
The Ukrainian premier was to give a news conference later on Wednesday. The comments came after Gazprom cut 50% of supplies to the neighbouring ex-Soviet state over Monday and Tuesday in a dispute over a $600-million (€395-million) debt claimed by the company from Kiev.
Ukraine is the main transit route for Russian supplies to the European Union and a previous such dispute in 2006 led to knock-on disruption in EU countries.
On Tuesday the European Commission urged the two sides to resolve the row and called a special meeting of its gas coordination group for March 11 ”to ensure a fully coordinated EU response to the situation”.
In her comments on Wednesday, Tymoshenko appeared to signal a willingness to compromise, saying ”our task today is to create a solution that allows Ukraine to pay, despite unfortunately the absence of signed contracts”.
On Tuesday Gazprom said that if Kiev did not return to the negotiating table Moscow could make yet more reductions in gas supplies.
Tymoshenko has baulked at Gazprom’s demands, insisting on the abolition of a murky intermediary company that has been handling Ukrainian payments for gas from both Russia and ex-Soviet Turkmenistan, RosUkrEnergo.
Meanwhile Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko, who has been at odds with Tymoshenko on the gas issue, was to visit the energy-rich Central Asian state of Kazakhstan on Wednesday.
Kiev is keen to build ties in order to reduce its dependence on Russian energy.
While Naftogaz earlier said it had sufficient reserves to hold out for a month, Russia’s Vremya Novostei newspaper predicted a further cut by Gazprom would threaten Ukrainian industry and force Kiev ”to steal fuel from the transit flow to Europe”.
The Gazeta newspaper said the EU might put pressure on Ukraine to seek a compromise — Brussels having more ”levers” of influence on the pro-Western Ukrainian leadership.
The paper also quoted energy expert Tamara Kasyanova as predicting that the row would help stimulate the EU to develop alternative pipeline routes bypassing Ukraine.
This might mean pushing forward the Nabucco pipeline project intended to bypass Russia and bring gas from the Caspian Sea area.
But the more likely result was greater EU support for two Russian pipeline projects, South Stream and Nord Stream, which are seen by Moscow as a way of bypassing east European transit states, the paper said. – Reuters