Russia-Ukraine gas row drags on
Russia’s refusal to pump gas to Europe and Ukraine’s reluctance to let any gas through left European leaders spluttering in impotent fury on Wednesday, alternately pleading with the Kremlin to resume supplies and accusing the Russians of duplicity.
With no breakthrough in sight to the two-week dispute between Russia and Ukraine that has deprived half of Europe of Siberian gas supplies, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, described the crisis as “incredible”, saying both Moscow and Kiev had blown their credibility as energy suppliers to Europe. He suggested that a flood of legal claims could be made against Russian and Ukrainian gas companies and pipeline operators for breach of contracts.
The leaders of the worst-hit countries, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Moldova, went to Moscow to plead with their former imperial overlord for mercy and for fuel to power the radiators for millions of households. Moldova has already asked the European Union for heaters and blankets to counter the impact of a severe winter without its main energy source.
But the war of words raged on between Moscow and Kiev, with hard-line positions entrenched and no sign of any settlement.
Despite an EU-brokered agreement on Monday to allow outside monitors to verify the gas flows and get the gas pumping immediately, the Russians continued to supply insufficient gas to power the system through to Europe on Wednesday, while the Ukrainians also kept some pipelines closed, Brussels said.
“We opened the tap, and are ready to supply gas, but on the other side, the tap is closed,” said Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister.
But according to Brussels, the Russians were pumping less than a third of the volume of gas needed to supply Europe and deliberately entered it into the wrong pipeline across Ukraine. “If the agreement is not honoured, it means that Russia and Ukraine can no longer be considered reliable partners for the EU in matters of energy supply,” warned Barroso.
Despite the tough talk, the Europeans have little leverage over the Russians in the short term. Barroso was said to have had a “robust” conversation with Putin by telephone. “This is getting close to breaking point,” said a commission official. “There is a feeling that Putin is being duplicitous, to put it mildly.”
The Ukrainians, too, showed no sign of climbing down, insisting on keeping the pipelines closed, and accusing the Russians of being bent on regime change in Kiev and of trying to bankrupt Ukraine in order to seize control of the transit pipelines.—guardian.co.uk