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Last Updated: Monday, 2 January 2006, 13:11 GMT
Media pump out gas coverage
Russian NTV grab shows Russian employee turning gas valve in Kursk region
Ukrainian officials warned of the risk to EU supplies
The decision by Russian gas monopoly Gazprom to cut gas exports to Ukraine is dominating the media in both countries.

Newspapers have shut down for the New Year and Orthodox Christmas holiday, but the broadcast media have devoted much airtime to the war of words between Moscow and Kiev.

Russian state channels broke into their New Year entertainment programmes with unscheduled news bulletins.

Russia's Channel 1 TV sent its correspondent Alexey Petrov to a pumping station on the main gas pipeline at the Ukrainian border for live coverage of the drama.

"It was about 1015 when the order came," Mr Petrov told Russian viewers from the scene. "The change in the gas flow is going to be quite considerable," he noted. "It has been flowing at something like 46 million cubic metres daily so far, and now they're cutting it by about 36 million."

The report then cut straight to senior pipeline official Alexander Glazkritsky. He was shown in his control room giving instructions to technicians by phone. "Okay," he said. "That's clear: 11 million to remain in the system, but through the big pipes - nothing. Right, tell the engineers to do it."

The small print

Subsequent TV reports - especially on the Gazprom-owned NTV, alleged that gas was being siphoned off in Ukraine.

Not all the Russian media, however, reflected the Kremlin line.

In contrast to state channels, privately-owned Ren TV said Ukraine may have the law on its side in the dispute.

Its correspondent explained that the small print in an annex to the current gas transit agreement stated that gas prices agreed at the time must remain in force until at least 2009.

That opinion was shared by Andrey Illarionov, who resigned as economic adviser to President Vladimir Putin last week over what he said were differences of opinion on economic policy.

Mr Illarionov told Moscow Echo radio that Russia was in the wrong, and had no right to turn off the gas taps.

The same radio interviewed human rights campaigner Lev Ponomarev, who accused President Putin of bullying, and trying to "force Ukraine to its knees".

'Information assault'

Ukrainian TV channels have reported both sides of the argument, but in a tone generally supportive of the Ukrainian government.

Gazprom spokesman Sergey Kupriyanov's announcement of the cut, blaming Ukraine for the failure of talks to resolve the dispute, was reported prominently, along with rebuttals by President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov, who accused Russia of waging an "information assault" on Ukraine.

A total disinformation campaign by Russia's Gazprom is in full swing
Ukrainian One Plus One TV

The two most popular Ukrainian TV channels, privately-owned Inter and One Plus One, had correspondents reporting from pumping station control rooms both in Russia and Ukraine.

One Plus One TV's correspondent cast doubt on accusations widely reported on Russian TV that gas was being siphoned off in Ukraine.

"A total disinformation campaign by Russia's Gazprom is in full swing," the correspondent alleged. "The Slovak gas transport system, where their reports of gas losses come from, belongs to Gazprom, so it is impossible to check whether they are true."

Ukraine's state television UT1 argued that Russian TV's live transmission of the switch-off was something of a media flop. "It turned out there was nothing much to see," the TV commented. "Gas flowing through pipes doesn't make good TV pictures."

Even Ukraine's NTN TV, which tends to be less supportive of the Ukrainian government, was scathing in its criticism of Russia. Its correspondent said Mr Kupriyanov of Gazprom was indulging in "hysterics" with accusations that Ukraine was stealing gas.

As the wider implications of the dispute for both countries become more apparent and the winter cold sets in, viewers on both sides of the fence will be watching avidly.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.

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