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Gas solution closer, says Putin

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel
Mr Putin accused the EU of siding with Ukraine

Russian PM Vladimir Putin says a deal to end the European gas crisis may be nearer, after discussing the formation of a consortium to transfer gas.

Speaking in Germany, he said: "We are approaching interesting agreements which could lead to a solution."

He spoke following meetings with European energy companies which he hopes can enable transit via Ukraine.

He also criticised the EU, saying it had sided with Ukraine in the two countries' contractual dispute.

Mr Putin said it was intolerable that Russia be expected to supply the "technical gas" needed by Ukraine to keep pressure up in its pipes to transfer gas to Europe.

He said a deal was being brokered between Russia's Gazprom and other European firms, including Germany's E.on, Gaz de France and Italy's Eni, under which they would supply the technical gas.

It is not clear whether Ukraine would accept such a deal.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, following talks with Mr Putin, said moves to resume gas supplies through Ukraine's pipelines could soon enter a "test phase".

Exasperation

No gas is flowing via Ukraine to central and eastern European countries, some of which are rationing gas amid cold weather and diminishing reserves.

Bulgaria is seeking emergency gas from elsewhere, Slovakia has warned its electricity grid will soon break down, and some companies in Serbia have ceased to operate.

EU governments are becoming exasperated at Russia and Ukraine for failing to resolve their row, despite an apparent agreement to resume transit supplies of gas, reached on Monday, correspondents say.

As the energy dispute between Moscow and Kiev drags on, the Germans are growing increasingly frustrated with the Russians
The BBC's Steve Rosenberg

European Commission energy spokesman Ferran Tarradellas said both Russia and Ukraine had breached that agreement within hours of it being signed, as "one didn't provide full volumes of gas, and the other didn't allow it to flow".

The EU's Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and a representative of the Czech EU presidency, Martin Riman, will attend direct talks between the Ukrainian and Russian governments in Moscow on Saturday.

But Mr Riman said "even if they turn on the taps tonight and gas starts to flow, there has been irreparable, irreversible damage done, a loss of confidence in both Russia and Ukraine".

So far no other European leaders have agreed to attend the talks in Russia, despite Moscow referring to the event as an "international summit" and President Dmitry Medvedev saying the issue could not be solved without European help.

The EU's energy spokesman said the EU was taking the lead because "European leaders consider it a European problem that has to be solved at a European level".


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