Moscow: Russia and Ukraine prepared on Sunday to restart gas supplies to the European Union (EU) after a deal was signed on deploying international monitors to help adjudicate in Moscow and Kiev’s gas conflict.
The stage was set for a resumption of supplies by the EU’s largest foreign gas provider Russia after shuttle-diplomacy by Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek secured both sides’ agreement to the deployment of monitors.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin earlier said supplies to EU could resume “immediately” after the monitors began work, although he warned Moscow “will not tolerate theft” of its gas.
The Russian broadsheet Kommersant said an end to the cut-off was in sight but predicted EU states would in the future unite to lessen dependence on Russian gas, meaning a resurgence of nuclear power and the use of other gas sources in North Africa and Central Asia.
“The EU will undoubtedly try to find ways of reducing dependence on Russian gas supplies and avoiding such crises in future,” the paper said, predicting a push to develop a proposed pipeline from Central Asia known as Nabucco.
After Moscow and Kiev’s agreement to a deal, Czech trade and industry minister Martin Riman said it would be possible for Russian gas flows to EU to resume later on Sunday, although EU officials have said it could take three days to restore supplies to full volume.
Topolanek, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said the deployment of the monitors was “a matter of hours”.
The gas crisis has taken a heavy toll on a dozen states in central Europe and the Balkans, leaving thousands of homes without heat and forcing factories, schools and public facilities to close.
The text of the accord signed by Putin, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the EU was not initially made public but was thought to provide for experts from Russia, Ukraine, the EU and European energy companies to monitor the transit network through Ukraine and prevent foul play.
While Ukraine has denied Russian accusations of stealing Russian gas bound for Europe, the system is notorious for a lack of transparency and the involvement of middlemen on both sides. Although the accord was expected to lead to a quick resumption of Russian gas flow to Europe, it did not resolve the bilateral dispute between Russia and Ukraine at the origin of the crisis.
Russia cut supplies to the Ukrainian market on 1 January after the failure of talks on payment for gas supplies to Ukraine delivered in November and December and on payment of about half a billion dollars in fines for late payment. Onward supplies to the EU via Ukraine were progressively reduced, with Putin ordering a full stop on 7 January.
The crisis has highlighted the EU’s dependence on the Soviet-built gas transit network through Ukraine for a large part of the bloc’s gas needs, as well as divisions within the EU on how to deal with this.
At issue in the accord between Russia and Ukraine’s leaders was the composition of the monitoring team and Ukrainian concerns it would have a Russian bias.