A deal to get gas flowing again across the European Union was deadlocked last night in a new war of words between Russia and Ukraine.
The EU-brokered plan saw Russia reopen the gas taps yesterday after closing off supplies to Ukraine, seriously hitting onward deliveries to a dozen EU member states.
But within hours Moscow reported that “little or no” gas was heading for the EU and blamed Ukraine for not opening the transit pipelines.
The resumption of gas trade hostilities infuriated the European Commission, which was behind a carefully-constructed accord which placed expert monitoring teams in gas-control centres in Russia and Ukraine to verify the full dispatch of gas to EU countries.
Russia turned off the gas tap to Ukraine on January 1 accusing Kiev of failing to pay its bills.
Russia then claimed Ukraine was siphoning off Europe’s supplies to offset its own shortfall. About 80% of Russian gas destined for EU customers goes via Ukraine.
With a dozen EU countries suffering gas shortages in severe winter conditions, the setback caused dismay in Brussels, which had played host for days to Russian and Ukrainian negotiators who signed a deal only on Monday.
The mood worsened when EU monitors reported they were not being allowed access to the Russian and Ukrainian control rooms, as promised, to assess gas flows.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso phoned the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, to demand full access.
Mr Putin reportedly promised to look into it – but then suggested Mr Barroso called Kiev to find out why the new stoppage occurred.
Meanwhile the Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, currently holding the EU presidency, asked the Ukrainian prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, to explain the latest setback. She said the pressure of gas arriving from Russia was too low.
Russia said Ukraine had simply not opened the right pipelines, leaving Gazprom – the Russian state gas company – unable to pump gas to European customers.
EU officials publicly refused to apportion blame but behind the scenes there was deep concern that the EU – and member states such as Bulgaria and Slovakia which are desperate for gas – are now pawns in a tussle between Moscow and Kiev.