Russia Rebuffs Accusation by Ukraine It Will Disrupt Europe Gas

Russia rebuffed accusations by Ukraine’s prime minister that it plans to disrupt winter gas supplies to Europe, a day after the two nations’ leaders met to try to ease political tensions.

“We’ll make every effort to ensure the fulfillment of contractual obligations to European importers, regardless of the current political situation in this or that transit country,” Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said today in an e-mailed statement. Ukraine is attempting “to mislead or misinform, deliberately, European consumers of Russian gas.”

The European Union, relying on Russian gas piped through Ukraine for about 15 percent of its needs, is struggling to broker a deal between the former Soviet allies to maintain shipments. Russia halted supplies for Ukraine’s use in June over the dispute over debt and prices of the fuel.

“We are aware of Russia’s plans to shut transit completely in winter even to European Union countries,” Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said today in Kiev, without elaborating.

Novak will discuss gas supply with EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger in Moscow on Aug. 29. Trilateral talks with Ukrainian officials are scheduled for early September, Oettinger said yesterday in Minsk, Belarus, where the Russian and Ukrainian presidents met to try to prevent relations worsening further.

Ukraine Fighting

“We need to renew our dialog on energy, including the gas issue,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said today after meeting Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko. “This is a difficult issue. It is in a deadlock but we still need to talk.”

Fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian rebels raged on today even after the two presidents hailed talks last night on ending the conflict as “positive.”

Sergei Kupriyanov, a spokesman for Russian gas exporter OAO Gazprom, declined to comment on Yatsenyuk’s statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said EU supplies were threatened by Ukraine. “Warnings and threats, periodically sounding from Kiev, that they’ll block the transit, is not encouraging anyone of course,” Lavrov said today.

Ukraine’s comments today echo those of Andriy Kobolyev, chief executive officer for the nation’s energy company NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy, on Aug. 12 that Russia had demonstrated its willingness to disrupt flows when it cut off gas in 2009.

Supplies to Europe were interrupted for 13 days during freezing weather in January 2009 as Gazprom accused its neighbor of siphoning off EU-bound fuel, a charge Naftogaz denied.

Naftogaz owes Gazprom $5.3 billion for past deliveries, the Russian exporter says. Kiev-based Naftogaz says the sum is too high after Russia raised the price for gas 81 percent in April. Gazprom has demanded payment before entering price talks. Fuel transiting Ukraine to EU countries has so far been maintained.

“We need an interim solution for the next winter,” Oettinger said yesterday. Gas may “be a door-opener for the whole high-level political process for the next weeks and months,” he said.

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