Accusations Fly as Gas Fails to Flow

ReutersAn employee walking near a pipe at Gazprom's Sudzha pumping station, near the border with Ukraine, where the taps were turned back on Tuesday.��
Russian gas deliveries to the European Union failed to resume flowing through Ukraine as planned Tuesday, causing a flurry of accusations and Gazprom going so far as to accuse the United States of involvement in the disruption.

Gazprom said it began pumping gas toward Ukraine in the morning but that the country's transit system would not accept the fuel. Ukraine said it was unable to handle the gas on that particular route, calling Gazprom's choice of the entry point a provocation.

The EU in turn complained that its monitors -- intended to improve the transparency of gas deliveries -- were not allowed to access technical information both in Kiev and Moscow.It was unclear late Tuesday when gas supplies might resume to Europe.

"It's quite clear at this hour that Ukraine has blocked all our actions in respect to a renewal of the transit of natural gas to Europe, which is unbelievable," Gazprom deputy chief Alexander Medvedev said at 2 p.m. "I can't find any other words."

He suggested that Ukrainian officials, in their handling of the gas conflict, were taking orders from the United States.

"It looks like they are dancing [to] music that is not orchestrated in Ukraine," he said in a conference call with reporters, speaking in English.

"I am making a reference to the agreement which was signed by Ukraine and the United States on Dec. 19th.

"We don't have all the details of it ... but we do know that part of this agreement referred to the transit ... through Ukraine to Europe, which is especially suspicious," he said. "Now we could make some guess why Ukraine behaved in such an unreasonable way and continues to do so."

The agreement in question, titled "U.S.-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership," mentions gas only once when it states that the parties "intend to work closely together on rehabilitating and modernizing the capacity of Ukraine's gas transit infrastructure," according to its copy posted on the U.S. State Department's web site.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a statement later Tuesday, saying Washington urged a rapid settlement of the dispute along normal commercial lines.

"We have encouraged all parties including Ukraine to work with the Czech EU presidency and with Russia to reach a prompt settlement," the statement said. "We hope Russia will do its part to end this dispute, resume and maintain gas supplies and avoid similar crises in the future."

U.S. State Department spokespeople were not immediately available for comment in Washington.


Mikhail Metzel / AP
Putin visiting Gazprom's main control room in Moscow on Tuesday. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller is on the far left.
Ukraine's national gas company, Naftogaz Ukrainy, acknowledged that it didn't accept Russian gas Tuesday, saying that otherwise it would have had to cut off three Ukrainian regions to let the transit gas pass.

"We didn't open the valve because there is no such possibility," Naftogaz chief Oleh Dubyna said at a news conference late Tuesday afternoon.

Gazprom said it intended to pump gas to Bulgaria and Moldova through its Sudzha metering station. Sudzha is Russia's northernmost station on the Ukrainian border, while Gazprom asked that the gas come out at Ukraine's southernmost metering station of Orlovka.

Gazprom's choice of the metering stations is "provocative" because it set a "technologically unrealistic" task before Naftogaz, said Bohdan Sokolovsky, Ukrainian presidential energy envoy, Interfax reported.

Naftogaz needs Russian gas also coming in at the other two import terminals in order to feed the Balkan pipeline, said Mikhail Korchemkin, director of the U.S.-based East European Gas Analysis consultancy.

Russia's decision to use just one metering station indicates that it wants to extend the conflict, he said.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said he had contacted President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss Kiev's proposals to find a technical solution to the transit issue. "The Ukrainian side has prepared a draft of such a technological agreement," he said at a news conference in Kiev. "I hope that the Russian side will treat it well."

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said "technical difficulties," such as the low pressure of gas arriving from Russia, are responsible for a delay in the full resumption of transit of the commodity to the EU, the Czech EU presidency said in a statement.

Bulgarian and Slovakian Prime Ministers Sergei Stanishev and Robert Fico are flying to Moscow for "urgent" talks over the interrupted Russian gas imports via Ukraine, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said during an inspection of Gazprom's gas traffic control center, Interfax reported.

Putin earlier on Tuesday told the two leaders by telephone that Ukraine had blocked a resumption of exports.

"Unfortunately, gas isn't entering Ukraine's gas transporting system. It doesn't work," Putin said, according to the Cabinet's press service.

He suggested that the system was in bad shape, saying the EU needed to work with Ukraine to support the country's pipelines in an operable condition.

Even if the gas had begun flowing across Ukraine, it would have represented just a fraction of the exports that normally traverse Ukraine at this time of the year. Gazprom said it was going to send 76.6 million cubic meters of gas on Tuesday, a far cry from the more than 300 million cubic meters that would be traveling in the pipelines if it weren't for the spat.

EU monitors are being denied full access to information at the central gas traffic control offices in Kiev and Moscow, said EU energy spokesman Ferran Tarradellas Espuny at a news conference in Brussels.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told Putin by phone on Tuesday that he was "concerned" by the lack of access and "disappointed" that Gazprom intended to ship so little gas to the EU, Barroso's adviser Matthew Baldwin said.

Calls to Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov went unanswered Tuesday afternoon.

Gazprom chief Alexei Miller complained to Putin that Naftogaz shut out the Russian company's representatives from its central gas traffic control office.