10 Jan 2009

EU reaches deal on monitoring gas shipments

8:14 am on 10 January 2009

Europe has struck a deal with Moscow on monitoring gas shipments via Ukraine that have been halted by a bitter pricing dispute with Kiev.

Diplomats in Prague said the European Union would send monitors to Ukraine on Friday to be deployed at the main metering stations for gas arriving from Russia.

The Czech EU presidency said in a statement the monitors agreement "should lead to the Russian supplies of gas to EU member states being restored." Czech officials, however, declined to give any details of the deal.

The apparent breakthrough came after talks between Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Nevertheless, Russia and Ukraine have yet to agree a price for Russian gas deliveries, subsidised since Soviet times, and Mr Putin on Thursday again demanded Kiev pay the going market rate.

The nine-day gas crisis has left hundreds of thousands of people in the Balkans without gas, forced factories to shut down and disrupted deliveries as far west as France and Germany, even as the continent faced freezing mid-winter temperatures.

The dispute between Kiev and Moscow also follows tensions over Ukraine's efforts to join NATO, a move bitterly opposed by Moscow.

Vladimir Putin blamed the gas crisis in part on a "collapse" of the authorities in Kiev and high-level corruption in Ukraine.

The European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, has accused both Moscow and Kiev of taking the EU's gas supply "hostage", and urged them to resume supplies immediately.