Europeans Clinch a Gas Agreement

APUkrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek saying goodbye after a news conference in Kiev early Sunday.��
An accord signed by Russia, Ukraine and the European Union on Sunday cleared the path for resumed gas exports to the EU after a cutoff left much of the continent in the cold.

But the Kremlin cast doubt over the deal late Sunday by balking at a declaration added to the document by Kiev.

Under the trilateral agreement, signed after Gazprom stopped all exports to Ukraine, experts from the three parties will monitor transit operations at both Russian and Ukrainian facilities.

"The three sides have signed the agreement, the conditions are in place for the resumption of gas supplies to Europe, and now it is up to the European Commission to make sure the conditions are respected by both sides," Jiri Pouznik, a spokesman for Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, said by telephone Sunday.

Topolanek, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, traveled to Ukraine and Russia over the weekend to broker the agreement, which he announced early Sunday in Kiev with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The taps have remained off while Russia and Ukraine haggle over the details of the monitoring agreement. Additionally, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said Sunday afternoon that the government had not received an official declaration from Kiev needed for the accord to take effect.

"When signing the protocol, Ukraine was afraid of some of the consequences it included and said they would issue a declaration," said a high-ranking European official close to talks who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to comment.

"Ukraine has already opened all information asked of them about gas flows. On the Russian side, however, there continue to be complications. We must ensure that Russia itself respects what it signed and indeed lets the experts start working at the monitoring stations," he said.

Moscow and Kiev have had annual, mid-winter pricing disputes for the past four years, including disruptions to European consumers in 2006, but this is the first time supplies have been halted completely. Gazprom closed the taps to Ukraine on New Year's Day and ultimately halted all exports through the country on Wednesday after accusing Ukraine of siphoning off fuel, a charge Kiev has denied.

Europe gets around one-quarter of its gas from Gazprom, with about 80 percent of that through Ukrainian pipelines. Even once Gazprom resumes exports, it will take up to three days for supplies to reach Europe, gas exports said.

In an interview with German broadcaster ARD set to air Wednesday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Gazprom had lost $800 million in the current dispute, Itar-Tass reported Sunday. He said Russia was ready to participate in a privatization of Ukraine's gas transportation system or to rent the pipes.

"We suggested several years ago that we rent the Ukrainian gas transportation system for a long term with the Ukrainian state retaining ownership," Putin said. He also suggested that the EU give Naftogaz Ukrainy a loan to pay off what Gazprom says is a $615 million debt.

Throughout the day Sunday, contradictory reports emerged regarding the exact location of monitoring teams for Ukraine and Russia.

"The [monitoring teams in Ukraine] are in place," said Ferran Tarradellas Espuny, an energy spokesman for the European Commission. "Every hour of delay is another hour of people suffering in the unheated homes in weather of negative 10 to 15 degrees Celsius; another hour of no heating for the sick people in hospitals."

Naftogaz spokesman Valentin Zemlyansky said European experts were heading to their positions.

The actual monitoring would only begin Monday, Interfax reported.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said by telephone that exports to Europe would not resume until the company had an official copy of the monitoring agreement.

"Right now they are just expert not monitors. We are waiting for the documents from Kiev," he said.

Experts sent to monitor Russian measuring stations arrived in Ukrainian border town Luhansk on Sunday afternoon, Interfax reported.

But even with progress on resuming European supplies, Moscow and Kiev appeared to be far from resolving their dispute.

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the government not to accept the terms of the agreement until Ukraine withdrew its qualifications, Interfax reported late Sunday. He was referring to a declaration of Kiev's position on the dispute that was attached by the Ukrainian side before it signed the deal in Kiev.

Zemlyansky, the Naftogaz spokesman, said there had been no developments in Russian-Ukrainian negotiations since Gazprom put forward an offer of $450 per 1,000 cubic meters Saturday.

"We think such an offer is unacceptable," he added.

After meeting with Czech Prime Minister Topolanek on Saturday, Putin said the spat was a result of Russia becoming "hostage" to Ukraine's domestic political infighting.

"Our actions are not intended to worsen the situation in Ukraine but to improve it, to free the Ukrainian people of swindlers and extortionists, and to make the Ukrainian economy more transparent and effective," Putin said, according to comments on the government web site.

In December, Gazprom agreed to accept $250 per thousand cubic meters but rescinded the offer after Ukraine countered with a price of $201 and demands for higher transit fees. Ukraine paid $179.50 for gas in 2008, while European countries paid from $460 to $520 per thousand cubic meters in the fourth quarter, according to Gazprom.

The future of the negotiations, Zemlyansky said, rested not with Naftogaz but with the Russian and Ukrainian political leadership. "This is a problem that must be resolved between government leaders," he said.

Staff Writer Nadia Popova contributed to this report.