Page last updated at 14:36 GMT, Saturday, 10 January 2009

Ukraine 'making gas crisis worse'

Protesters in Bulgaria
Bulgarians protest about the gas crisis outside Ukraine's embassy in Sofia

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of "aggravating" the gas crisis in Europe.

He was speaking in Moscow during crisis talks with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the European Union presidency.

Hundreds of thousands of European homes have no heating after gas shipments via Ukraine were halted on Wednesday.

Mr Topolanek has vowed not to leave the region until Russian gas starts flowing to Europe again.

"Despite...efforts to resolve the crisis...I have just learnt that the Ukrainian side has aggravated it further," Mr Putin said in comments that ran on Russia's state-run TV.

Mr Putin said Ukraine had brought about a "gas blockade" of Europe and accused a Kiev court of passing a ruling to ban the transit of Russian gas through Ukrainian territory.

Monitor mission

But the EU representative vowed not to leave empty-handed.

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

"I have sent a signal to Ukrainian leaders that I will stay in the region until we get the gas flowing," Mr Topolanek said.

Moscow has accused Ukraine of stealing Russian gas intended for Europe, but Kiev has repeatedly denied the claims. The two countries have been locked in a bitter contractual dispute over gas prices and transit fees.

Mr Putin says that an agreement spelling out the terms of an EU observers mission in Ukraine is essential for resuming Russian gas shipments across Ukraine.

In a key concession, Ukraine has agreed to Moscow's demand to include Russian observers in the team.

But Russia will not resume supply until the agreement is in writing, an indication of the mistrust between both sides.

Russian and Ukrainian officials continue to argue over other details of the deal.

In the cold

More than 15 countries across central Europe have been hit by the shutdown of Russian supplies and even if an agreement is reached immediately, people won't get their gas back on until at least Monday.

Tens of thousands of homes in central Europe have been left without heating, and schools and businesses closing amid bitterly cold winter weather.

Although both countries had guaranteed that transit supplies to Europe would be unaffected, they were cut off amid mutual accusations between Kiev and Moscow.

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