Barroso Sees ‘Problems’ If Gas Flow Doesn’t Restart

European Commission President Jose Barroso said “real problems” may arise unless Russian natural gas starts flowing again to Europe via Ukraine.

Russian and Ukrainian officials have accepted a proposal to have international monitors verify gas transit, Barroso said at a joint news conference with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek in Prague today.

“Tomorrow in Brussels we hope to have this confirmed,” Barroso told reporters. “It’s critical” that supplies “start immediately.”

Russian natural gas exports through Ukraine halted for the first time in three years, threatening to create shortages as freezing weather spurred demand across Europe. Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria were among the countries that restricted gas use.

The Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency, called a meeting of ministers for tomorrow in Brussels with representatives OAO Gazprom and NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy to find a “technical solution” and ensure transit.

“There’s a certain light at the end of the tunnel of an otherwise very complicated bilateral situation,” Topolanek said. The meeting seeks to reach an agreement “so that we could control supplies so that transit could be renewed and that all other remaining questions would be resolved afterward.”

‘Gives Hope’

A deal such as the one outlined by Barroso “could possibly be reached tomorrow,” he said, adding that at the moment, the approach of Russia and Ukraine “gives hope for an agreement.”

The situation may become critical on Jan. 9 if supplies to Europe aren’t restored, Topolanek said. The Czech EU presidency has called a Jan. 12 meeting in Brussels of the council of energy ministers from the bloc’s 27 members.

If the gas dispute isn’t resolved soon, it will also raise doubts about Russia’s commitment as a supplier of gas to Europe and Ukraine’s future as a transit country, Barroso said.

Topolanek, without offering specifics, said the EU could use other “tools” of communication against Russia if the situation persists.

Both Topolanek and Barroso spoke to Russian Premier Vladimir Putin today about the gas problem. Barroso also spoke with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrea Dudikova in Prague at adudikova@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Douglas Lytle in Prague at dlytle@bloomberg.net

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