Gazprom accuses Ukraine of 'stealing' gas

Russian energy giant Gazprom has accused Ukraine of "stealing" gas bound for Europe, a charge Ukraine denies. Russia has called for an emergency session of the European parliament to make its case.


AFP - Russia on Friday accused Ukraine of "stealing" gas bound for European customers and called for an emergency session of the European parliament to make its case in the latest energy crisis.

The accusation, after Russia cut supplies for the Ukrainian market on New Year's Day, prompted a denial from Ukraine, which said some "technical" gas was being used to maintain pressure in pipelines that run through its territory.

The row which blew up over unpaid gas bills and fines levied by Russia on Ukraine, has raised concern in European Union states that depend on Russian gas supplies, most of which flow through ex-Soviet Ukraine.

In televised comments, a spokesman for Russian gas giant Gazprom, Sergei Kupriyanov, asserted: "The Ukrainian side openly admits it is stealing gas and has no shame about it."

He put the amount of gas he said had been illegally "syphoned" from pipelines crossing Ukrainian territory at 21 million cubic metres since Thursday.

He added that Ukraine was refusing to permit Russia to send the full amount of gas required for clients in Europe across Ukrainian territory on Saturday.

"Regarding the next 24 hours, the Ukrainian side did not agree to the transit volume required by us. We made a request for 303 million cubic metres but were refused this and permitted 296 million cubic metres," Kupriyanov said.

Separately, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said: "We propose calling an emergency session of the European parliament in order to give the Russian side a chance to express its views" to the European Union directly.

Ukrainian state energy company Naftogaz denied Gazprom's accusation that it was stealing gas but said the situation concerning "technical gas" used to maintain pipeline pressure was unclear after the breakdown of talks on New Year's Eve.

"We are not stealing gas. We are removing gas for technical purposes, in order to ensure the transit of Russian exports" to Europe, Naftogaz spokesman Valentin Zemlyansky told AFP.

"Normally Russia should provide this 21 million (cubic metres) with the transit volume," he said, adding he had not received the corresponding documentation on technical gas from Russia.

"We're not going to use our own gas to ensure transit," he said.

As the row continued, the European Union urged the two sides to settle their differences, although European officials said their countries were not experiencing any supply problems.

"It is unacceptable for the EU and for the Czech Republic that a bilateral disagreement between two private companies should threaten respect of international agreements in a sector as important from the economic and strategic point of view," said Jiri Frantisek Potuznik, European affairs spokesman for the Czech Republic, current holder of the EU presidency.

A spokesman for EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, Ferran Tarradellas, said supplies were being monitored closely but no disruption had been reported.

Kupriyanov said Gazprom had increased supplies through its other pipeline route to Europe, Belarus, which normally handles about 20 percent of Russia's gas shipments to European customers.

Gazprom cut supplies to Ukraine on New Year's Day over a demand for payment of over two billion dollars for gas supplied in November and December as well as fines for late payment.

Experts say both Ukraine and the European Union are cushioned by large gas reserves they have built up in storage facilities.

On Friday a Ukrainian delegation led by Energy Minister Yuri Prodan began touring European capitals to discuss the consequences of the dispute and provide reassurance.

"The main aim of the tour is to present the necessary explanations to EU member countries over the situation, to give guarantees on the transit through Ukrainian territory and consult European specialists," an aide to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said in a statement.

Yushchenko is committed to a course of integration with the West and particularly the European Union and may therefore want to avoid a repeat of the gas shortages that occurred in Europe after a similar 2006 dispute.

Around a quarter of the gas used in the European Union -- more than 40 percent of the gas imported by the bloc -- comes from Russia, most of it pumped in pipelines through Ukraine.

Gazprom's chief executive Alexei Miller has scotched hopes of a quick deal, saying Ukraine would have to pay a "European price" of 418 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres of gas in 2009, more than double what it paid last year.

Russia earlier offered Ukraine a price of 250 dollars which Kiev turned down, arguing it should receive an increase in payments for gas transit.

The price of 179.5 dollars that Ukraine paid in 2008 is well under the amount paid by European countries for Russian gas.

There was no word on when negotiations would resume after talks collapsed on Wednesday.

Both Gazprom and Ukraine's state gas firm Naftogaz have vowed they will fulfil their obligations towards European consumers.

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