An end to the gas supply crisis in Europe appeared to be close last night after Russia vowed to restore full services once observers are in place to check flows through Ukraine.
The delegation of official monitors, to be sent by the EU, could be in place in two days, effectively policing a row in which Russia’s state-controlled gas company Gazprom has accused Ukraine’s Naftogaz of siphoning off supplies intended for elsewhere in Europe.
About 80% of Russia’s EU-bound gas goes via Ukraine which has denied Gazprom’s accusations that it has refused to pay its gas bills.
Yesterday’s breakthrough came after a flurry of diplomatic activity in Brussels with Russian and Ukrainian gas chiefs and politicians meeting European commissioners and Euro-MPs.
Ukraine insisted it had paid all its bills for 2008 and did not deserve to have the gas tap turned off, which Russia did last week. Ukraine also denied hiving off EU-bound transit supplies to make up for its own shortfall.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barr-oso told Gazprom boss Alexey Miller he should honour his obligations to the EU in full or face the loss of reputation and revenues as western customers look elsewhere.
UK Energy Secretary Ed Miliband said consumers should not worry about gas supplies in the UK being affected, thanks to the UK’s diverse sources of supply. Only 2% of UK imported gas comes from Russia.
But Mr Miliband acknowledged there could be price rises if the row continues.
“What we want to avoid is the risk that prices might go up in Britain or might not go down as quickly as they should because this dispute drags on,” he said.
With the European Commission and European Parliament acting as mediators, both sides took their troubles to Brussels. Mr Barroso’s spokesman said: “It is in the interests of Russia and Ukraine – in the interests of Gazprom and Naftogaz – to resolve this situation.”
Before leaving Brussels, Mr Miller promised to maintain direct talks with Naftogaz. “As soon as the EU observers are in Ukraine and have access to the gas pipelines, the gas supplies should be restored as soon as possible,” the Gazprom boss added.