EU premiers plead with Ukraine and Russia for gas

Wed Jan 14, 2009 6:35pm EST
 
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Slovakian officials later said, however, they had secured new supplies to cover consumption until the end of January.

Slovakia, which gets almost all its gas from Russia, declared a state of emergency on January 6, under which gas deliveries to large clients were reduced. About 1,000 companies were forced to shut down or cut production.

The Slovakian government said Fico had stressed Ukraine's responsibility for the crisis and said it had "negatively affected Ukraine's credibility."

Tymoshenko told Fico that Ukraine was "the same hostage in the dispute as the European Union" while Russia's Putin told his visitors the European Union should put more pressure on Kiev.

"In my view, European officials could do more to put pressure on the transit country to ensure European interests," he said.

The gas dispute has hit 18 countries in the depths of winter, shutting down factories and leaving householders shivering.

EU president Barroso told the European Parliament that failure to honor supply agreements would mean Russia and Ukraine could no longer be regarded as reliable.

"If the agreement sponsored by the EU is not honored, the Commission will advise EU companies to take this matter to the courts," he told EU lawmakers.

Gazprom is demanding Kiev hand over $614 million for unpaid gas bills and pay $450 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas in 2009. That is similar to rates paid by EU customers but a big rise on last year's price of $179.5.

Analysts in Kiev say Ukraine, saddled with debt and hard hit by the global slowdown, cannot afford that price.

The gas row reflects poor political relations between Russia and Ukraine. Moscow is vehemently opposed to moves by Ukraine's pro-Western leadership to join the U.S.-led NATO alliance.

(Additional reporting by Wojciech Zurawski; Writing by Jon Boyle and Richard Balmforth)

 
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