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Kremlin calls for European gas crisis summit

Published on 15/01/2009

MOSCOW -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday called for a summit of states hit by the gas crisis as Russia accused Ukraine of holding Europe "hostage" by blocking efforts to resume gas supplies.

"I propose convening a summit of states that are customers of Russian gas or transit countries in Moscow on Saturday 17th," Medvedev said at talks in his residence near Moscow with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and European leaders. "I hope that the meeting that will take place in Moscow will find a solution to the current situation and avoid such situations in the future."

Ukraine had also been invited, his spokeswoman said.

Putin earlier demanded EU intervention to get gas deliveries moving again, while Kiev said Moscow had deliberately chosen a transit route through Ukraine that made it technically impossible for shipments to Europe to pass.

While millions in Europe began a second week of suffering as a result of the cut-off of Russian gas via Ukraine, leaders of three European states travelled to the region to confront Russian and Ukrainian political leaders.

"Our European partners really have become hostage to the dispute between Russia and Ukraine," Putin said as he met the prime ministers of Bulgaria, Moldova and Slovakia at his residence near Moscow. "No country has the right to take other countries hostage by taking advantage of its transit role."

"European Commission officials could use their influence over Ukraine more to ensure the supply of gas," he added.

Europe, meanwhile, voiced growing frustration at the squabbling between Russia and Ukraine, with EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso telling the European Parliament: "The current situation is unacceptable and incredible."

Barroso also encouraged European gas companies and EU member states to pursue legal action if a faltering agreement brokered by the European Union to get the gas flowing was not honoured "as a matter of urgency."

On Monday, Hungary’s gas supplier Emfesz said it had filed a complaint against Ukraine’s Naftogaz, seeking 30 million dollars (23 million euros) in damages.

The head of Serbian public gas supplier Srbijagas, Dusan Bajatovic, accused Ukraine of being the main culprit and said he was examining possible action against Kiev.

The EU relies on Russian gas pumped via Ukraine for a fifth of its supplies.

Those supplies have been halted since Russia cut them off last Wednesday, accusing Ukraine of illegally siphoning the gas for its own domestic market — a charge vehemently denied by Ukraine.

Russia’s state-run gas giant Gazprom issued a statement charging that Ukraine had refused a request for the transit of nearly 100 million cubic metres of Russian gas to the Balkans and Slovakia.

A Naftogaz spokesman did not deny this but said Gazprom’s proposed transit route would not work for technical reasons.

"We cannot technically send the gas to where they want it to go," Valentyn Zemlyansky told AFP in Kiev.

Ukraine Deputy Foreign Minister Konstantin Yeliseyev was quoted as saying: "The so-called submission of gas … was nothing more than decoration."

At their meeting with Putin at his residence outside Moscow the prime ministers of Bulgaria, Moldova and Slovakia, three of the European states hardest hit by the cut-off in Russian gas, said they felt like "hostages."

"The worst thing for me is that millions of citizens of Europe feel like hostages and hundreds of thousands of people are really suffering," Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev told Putin.

Moldovan Prime Minister Zinaida Greceani said that gas consumption in her former Soviet republic had fallen to a third of normal rates because of the crisis and that parts of the country were entirely cut off.

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico told Putin: "We don’t want to work out who’s right — this is a bilateral dispute."

"We can’t judge," he added. "We are just hostages of this situation and we also paid for the gas."

Fico also said Ukraine was "losing the trust" of its European partners.

The current crisis began on New Year’s Day when Russia cut gas supply to Ukraine after the two ex-Soviet republics failed to reach agreement on Kiev’s payment of arrears and new prices for 2009.