Russia has gas conflict back-up plan

Russia says it’s made significant concessions to Ukraine, so it has no excuse to cut gas pipelines to Europe this winter. But Energy Minister Sergey Shmatko says precautions are still in place.

Importers of Russian gas have used much less in 2009 than they agreed to buy under contract. That’s after the economic crisis caused demand to slump. While Gazprom insists EU states pay for pre-agreed volumes, Ukraine’s being allowed to take a third below the 52 billion cubic meters stipulated in 2009, and even less in 2010.

Russia’s also letting its near-bankrupt neighbor pay for December gas later than usual.

But Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko is said to see a conflict with Russia boosting his chances in presidential elections on January 17. So the EU is doing all it can to avoid reliance on Kiev, says EU Energy Commissioner Andres Pielbags.

“Our gas storages are 100% full. We've also increased all the types of switching opportunities for countries which can't have gas for very long period.”

When Ukraine stopped transit to the EU last January, Moscow struggled to get independent monitors to metering stations to prove Kiev was cutting supplies not Moscow. This time the monitors will be ready. RT’s obtained a copy of the Early Warning System accord, signed by EU Energy Commissioner Piebalgs and Russian Energy Minister Shmatko. It sets European experts to be posted at transit stations on Ukraine’s border. Russian Energy Minister Sergey Schmatko it is better preparation in case the worst unfolds.

“Last winter we started discussing how to react only after problems had begun. This time we’ve already agreed how to work together in a crisis.”

Vladimir Putin’s met Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Timoshenko to agree how to make this Christmas trouble-free. Moscow finds her easier to deal with than with Yushchenko. Russia and EU representatives repeat the best solution – is to avoid a crisis altogether.