EU snubs Kremlin over submit as gas crisis talks set

16th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russia was in danger of losing its credibility as an energy supplier because of the gas cutoff to Europe, and France said supplies should resume before any summit takes place.

Moscow -- Russia and Ukraine agreed Thursday to hold new talks on their gas war as Europe batted aside a Kremlin proposal for a summit in Moscow to resolve a feud that has left millions of Europeans freezing.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russia was in danger of losing its credibility as an energy supplier because of the gas cutoff to Europe, and France said supplies should resume before any summit takes place.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was to hold talks in London later Thursday with Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko, Brown's office said.

Speaking during a visit to Berlin ahead of the meeting, Brown said the crisis "re-emphasised to the world the need to diversify energy supplies."

Yushchenko further upped the stakes by telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by telephone that Moscow should pump the full 330 million cubic metres a day due to European consumers, which Ukraine would then pass on to Europe.

Russia has accused Ukraine of blocking a partial resumption of supplies.

"The lengthy Russian-Ukrainian gas conflict has already turned into a real war," the popular Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda said as the cutoff of gas supplies to Europe continued for a second week.

A spokesman for Vladimir Putin said the powerful Russian prime minister would meet Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Moscow on Saturday to discuss efforts to get Russian gas through Ukraine to European consumers.

Putin was expected to hold talks with Merkel in Berlin on Friday that are likely to be overshadowed by Russia's move to turn off gas supplies to Ukraine, which it accuses of not paying energy debts and siphoning off gas.

"The danger that Russia will also lose part of its credibility because of these interruptions of supplies is certainly one that exists, and tomorrow in my talks with... Putin, I will have to address this issue," Merkel said.

The European Union said it was prepared to send the Czech energy minister, representing the Czech EU presidency, and the EU energy commissioner to take part in the Russia-Ukraine meeting in Moscow on Saturday.

But the EU has so far held off on responding to Kremlin leader Medvedev's proposal to hold a broader summit of all the countries affected by the gas crisis, including consumers and transit nations, also in Moscow the same day.

After an invitation by the Kremlin to European leaders to attend the summit, France responded that Russia and Ukraine should resume gas exports to Europe first while the EU presidency said the meeting should be held in Europe.

"As long as gas deliveries from Russia and Ukraine have not resumed in line with their commitments, conditions are not ripe for a summit," said Eric Chevallier, a French foreign ministry spokesman.

The EU, which has voiced growing concern over the crisis as gas stocks in Europe run low, said the summit should not be held in Moscow but on EU territory -- a view echoed by the Ukrainian leadership.

Medvedev extended a personal invitation to Yushchenko and to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin to attend the "Moscow international conference" on Saturday in telephone calls on Thursday, the Kremlin press service said.

Gas-fired central heating has been reduced or cut off for millions of Europeans in the crisis, schools have been shut down and factories closed as a huge swathe of central Europe and the Balkans struggles to cope.

The EU depends on Russian gas via Ukraine for a fifth of its total supplies.

The EU has sent emergency aid including electric heaters and generators to crisis-hit Moldova, whose prime minister came to Moscow along with her Bulgarian and Slovakian counterparts on Wednesday in a bid to resolve the row.

Slovakia has warned it faces a complete electricity blackout in a week if it receives no Russian gas and has threatened to restart a nuclear power station it had to close down as part of its commitments for joining the EU.

Russia cut off supplies to Ukraine's domestic market on New Year's Day in a payment dispute and then halted deliveries to Europe via Ukraine on January 7, saying it was forced to do so because Kiev was stealing the gas.

Ukraine has denied the charge and accuses Russia of provoking the crisis.

Russia on Tuesday said it was resuming the supplies to Europe but Ukraine has said it cannot ship the supplies without a fully fledged solution as it has reoriented its transit system to ship stored gas to industries in the east.

Dario Thuburn/AFP/Expatica

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