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EU bidding to resolve gas dispute

Firewood seller in Sofia, Bulgaria
Bulgarians have resorted to traditional heating methods

The head of the EU mediation team is in Moscow for talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to help reach a deal to resume gas supplies to Europe.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the EU presidency, said the deal still needed "fine-tuning" after talks in Kiev yesterday.

Hundreds of thousands of European homes have no heating as the row continues.

Supplies of Russian natural gas via Ukraine have not resumed, despite the arrival of EU monitors in Ukraine.

The last thing that is needed before gas starts flowing is for all parties to sign a final written agreement, says the BBC's Rupert Wingfield Hayes in Moscow.

Russia cut off supplies following a dispute with Ukraine over transit fees, and the price of gas for Ukrainian consumption.

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It will still take three days for the gas to reach some areas once supplies are restored.

And even then, reports the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse from Kiev, there is still no progress on the underlying issue that provoked this crisis in the first place - the question of how much Ukraine should pay Russia for the gas it consumes in the future, and how much Russia should pay Ukraine in return for transporting gas to Europe.

'Humiliating'

Speaking in Ukraine last night, the current EU president, Mr Topolanek, said a deal was not far off.

"What remains to be done is to fine-tune the technical details and to agree on the signature of a trilateral agreement," he said.

But recriminations continued late on Friday over Russian charges that Ukraine had been stealing gas, with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also accusing Ukrainian authorities of corruption.

"The money from these deals was probably used for political aims or to solve personal problems," he said. "Such thievery can't be left unaccountable."

Graph showing EU's gas supplies
Dependence on Russia for gas:
100% dependent on Russia: Latvia, Slovakia, Finland, Estonia
More than 80% dependent: Bulgaria, Lithuania, Czech Republic
More than 60% dependent: Greece, Austria, Hungary
Source: European Council on Foreign Relations, 2006 figures

But Ukraine's president repeated denials that his country had stolen gas, calling the accusations "incorrrect" and "humiliating".

In the cold

The EU said the first of its monitors arrived in Kiev on Friday.

A major stumbling block was removed earlier when Ukraine agreed to accept Russian experts as part of the monitoring mission.

More than 15 countries have been hit by the shutdown of Russian supplies.

Serbia and Bosnia-Hercegovina are among the worst hit, as many homes there rely on communal heating stations that only run on gas.

Bulgaria, which gets nearly all its gas supplies from Russia via Ukraine, has imposed gas rationing and closed schools.

Other countries reporting a total halt in gas supplies included Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia and Austria.

The EU depends on Russia for about a quarter of its total gas supplies, some 80% of which are pumped via Ukraine.

But although both countries guaranteed that transit supplies to Europe would be unaffected, they were soon cut off amid mutual accusations between Kiev and Moscow.

Gas pipelines affected Gas network in Europe



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