Ukraine, Russia and the EU struck an agreement on Sunday that should enable the resumption of Russian supplies via Ukraine to Europe, large parts of which have been plunged into a mid-winter energy crisis.
But it was likely to be Tuesday at the earliest before the gas reaches Europe, where many factories have closed and thousands of households have shivered in sub-zero temperatures after a pricing row between Moscow and Kiev choked off supplies.
The agreement signed on Sunday is for international teams of monitors to deploy to pumping stations along the route of gas pipelines through Russia and Ukraine to Europe -- a condition set by Moscow to start pumping gas again. Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom said in a statement the firm was waiting to receive a faxed copy of the agreement, signed in the early hours of Sunday in the Ukrainian capital, before letting monitors start work.
Once they are in place, the gas taps will be re-opened but it is likely to be a further 36 hours before the fuel reaches customers in Europe because of the time it will take for pressure to build up in the pipeline network. “Monitors are ready to fly to gas compressor stations in Russia, Ukraine and Europe. They can get there today, which means gas can resume flowing today as well,” a Gazprom official told Reuters on Sunday.
A Reuters cameraman traveling with a group of five EU monitors said they had landed in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk on their way to a compressor station near the Russian-Ukrainian border. Even once gas starts flowing again to Europe, Ukraine will still be without Russian gas for its own use. The latest talks to resolve the contractual dispute between Moscow and Kiev that sparked the cut-off ended without result on Saturday.
Ukraine says it has enough gas stockpiled to last until the end of the winter, though the government has limited supplies to industrial customers.
Europe receives 80% of its Russian gas -- or a fifth of its total needs -- from pipelines that run via Ukraine. The gas disruptions have led many European countries to question whether Russia and Ukraine, former Soviet neighbors which have clashed repeatedly over gas and Kiev’s drive to join the NATO alliance, are reliable energy suppliers. A total of 18 countries have suffered disruptions to their gas supplies.
Eastern and central Europe have borne the brunt of the supply disruptions, with Bulgaria shutting schools because it could not heat them and Slovakia saying it would re-start a nuclear reactor which it shut down last year. Energy problems in Bulgaria could ease after Ukraine said on Saturday it had started to pump gas there from its own reserves.
The breakthrough in the dispute came after Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the EU presidency for six months, flew first to Moscow and then to Kiev to persuade their governments to sign the monitoring agreement. The presence of the monitors at pumping stations is designed to reassure Russia that all the gas it sends via Ukraine is reaching customers in Europe. (Reuters)