Ukraine’s gas war chills Europe

Russia and Ukraine are set to hold talks in Brussels on Thursday on the deepening gas dispute. Many EU states are running out of gas as freezing temperatures grip the continent.

A delegation from Gazprom is arriving in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the ongoing situation with gas deliveries to European countries. It will bring with it a range of documents including the most recent Russian–Ukrainian transit contract. Representatives from Naftogas, Ukraine’s state-run gas company, are also expected to take part in the consultations.

The decision to stop pumping gas through Ukraine was proposed by the Gazprom CEO, Aleksey Miller, and agreed to by Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“It is necessary to stop delivering gas to the Russia-Ukraine border. Since transit of Russian gas through Ukraine has been fully stopped, and Ukraine is stealing Russian gas, I propose to stop pumping Russian gas to the Russia-Ukraine border,” Vladimir Putin said.

And Aleksey Miller underlined that the stopping of transit should be done as publicly as possible and with international observers present.

Gazprom says that Ukraine has shut all four pipelines which send gas to Europe, causing several countries to run out of fuel. But Ukraine claims that Russia stopped delivering all gas to Europe through its territory on Wednesday morning.

Ukraine has turned off the fourth and last gas pipeline transporting gas to Europe, said Aleksandr Medvedev, Gazprom deputy chief executive.

Some countries in Europe have no gas stockpiled. Macedonia has less than a week’s supply and there have been talks of a possible state of emergency in Slovakia, while the situation in Greece is also described as difficult.

The number of European countries reporting a complete halt of gas supply via the Ukrainian route is still growing. Amongst those affected are Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Serbia and Austria.

International reaction

The EU has called on Russia and Ukraine to ensure full deliveries of gas to Europe. The Czech government, which currently holds the EU presidency says that if the gas issue is not resolved before Thursday, it will institute “stronger measures” in order to tackle the situation.

The Romanian government says it will contact the Russian government urgently to find out how soon the situation will be resolved. The Romanian authorities are also trying to calm worried citizens by promising them there will be no turning off of heating and the problem will be solved at government level. The country has some supplies stockpiled and also some alternative supply routes.

According to Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission President, Ukraine must ensure free gas transit to Europe if it wants to preserve good relations with the EU:

“If Ukraine wants to be closer to the EU it should not create any problems for gas to come to the EU.”

He also noted that the EU is prepared to help Russia and Ukraine to find common ground in the gas dispute. Nevertheless, if normal gas supply is not restored, the EU will be forced to no longer consider Russian gas supplies through Ukraine as “credible”

Gazprom’s proposals

Gazprom has taken measures to compensate European customers for the gas it says was stolen by Ukraine, by increasing the amount of fuel going to Europe through Belarus, Poland and Turkey, thereby avoiding Ukraine.

However, Aleksandr Medvedev, Gazprom’s deputy chief executive, said the consequences of this gas crisis are too serious:

“None of our efforts can make up for what Ukraine has done by closing its export pipelines.”

“The most cynical thing is that Ukraine is accusing Gazprom of not supplying gas to Ukraine. Every schoolchild knows that sealing one end of a pipe makes it impossible to feed gas into it from the other end. Therefore, the entire responsibility for what is happening is on the Ukrainian part,” he added.

On Tuesday, speaking at a media conference in Berlin, Aleksandr Medvedev said that as independent auditors are still being blocked from working at Ukraine’s gas measuring stations, Gazprom had invited a national resource analysts’ group from Switzerland to measure gas leaving Russia and the gas leaving Ukraine.

According to Aleksey Miller, the CEO of Gazprom, Russia has no other choice but to fully stop all gas supplies to Ukraine.

“It's necessary to stop delivering gas to the Russia-Ukraine border, since transit of Russian gas through Ukraine has been fully stopped and Ukraine is stealing Russian gas,” Miller said at a meeting with Vladimir Putin.

A delegation from Gazprom is arriving in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the ongoing situation with gas deliveries to European countries. It will bring with it a range of documents including the most recent Russian–Ukrainian transit contract.

Representatives from Naftogas, Ukraine’s state-run gas company, are also expected to take part in the consultations.