Page last updated at 22:25 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2009

Monitors key to Russian gas deal

Gas pipelines in Slovakia
Slovakia has called a state of emergency amid plunging gas supplies

Russian PM Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will resume pumping gas to Europe once independent monitors are in place to check the flow to EU markets.

Ukraine, whose dispute with Russia over pricing led to the crisis, said it would guarantee transit to Europe.

The Czech EU presidency said monitors would check Russian gas entering and leaving Ukraine but it was unclear if a firm deal had been agreed.

Earlier, talks between the EU, Russian and Ukrainian officials stalled.

Ukraine, whose dispute with Russia over pricing led to the crisis, earlier said it would guarantee transit to Europe.

The EU presidency did not specify when the monitors would be in place or when gas supplies would resume.

"This deployment should lead to the Russian supplies of gas to EU member states being restored," the EU presidency statement said.

The talks in Brussels on Thursday were aimed at ending the row that has seen supply to Europe cut off.

Ten of thousands of homes in Europe have been left with no heating, a situation which the European Commission has described as completely unacceptable.

International monitors

Mr Putin had urged the EU to send monitors to Ukraine "as soon as possible", so that gas deliveries to Europe could resume.

Graph showing EU's gas supplies
Dependence on Russia for gas:
100% dependent on Russia: Latvia, Slovakia, Finland, Estonia
More than 80% dependent: Bulgaria, Lithuania, Czech Republic
More than 60% dependent: Greece, Austria, Hungary
Source: European Council on Foreign Relations, 2006 figures

"As soon as people show up there and really sit down and start working, gas will immediately resume flowing," he told reporters at his residence outside Moscow.

Ukrainian officials say the monitors could be in place as early as Friday.

Mr Putin also said Russia was prepared to pay the market price for Ukraine's transit fee, as long as Kiev paid the market price for gas for its own use.

However, Russian officials say they have not yet signed a deal with Ukraine.

Oleg Dubyna, the head of Ukrainian gas company Naftogaz, said Kiev would transport Russian gas to Europe as long as Russia provided additional gas to keep the system running.

Some EU states are getting no gas at all or have seen supplies sharply cut.

Ukraine denies Russian accusations that it is stealing gas passing through export pipelines on its territory.

Russia cut gas to Ukraine itself a week ago as the row over pricing and allegedly unpaid bills escalated.

The EU depends on Russia for about a quarter of its total gas supplies, some 80% of which are pumped via Ukraine.

Brussels has so far avoided taking sides in the dispute, calling only for deliveries to resume urgently, the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse reports from Kiev.

Apart from the immediate question of who is to blame, Kiev and Moscow have fundamental disagreements over how much Ukraine owes Russia for last year's gas and how much it should pay this year, our correspondent adds.

Nuclear U-turn?

On Wednesday, heating systems shut down in some parts of central Europe, as outdoor temperatures plunged to -10C or lower.

The list of countries that reported a total halt of Russian supplies via Ukraine included Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Serbia, and Austria.

Another example of how easily and fast energy supplies can be disrupted for either political or economic reasons
Victor Vyssotsky, Orleans, USA

Countries in eastern and central Europe have been particularly badly affected, as they rely heavily on Russian gas supplies but don't have access to the same kind of reserves found in Germany, Italy and France.

Power stations have been told to switch to fuel oil where possible, while big industrial users have been told to prepare to limit or halt use.

There have also been calls for Soviet-era nuclear plants to be restarted in Bulgaria and Slovakia.

Gas pipelines affected Gas network in Europe

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