Gazprom to resume gas supplies to Europe


GAZPROM HAS said gas supplies to Europe should finally resume this morning following an agreement signed by Russia and Ukraine to allow monitors into both countries.

The deal signed in Brussels yesterday follows days of fractious negotiations between Russia, Ukraine and the EU over a dispute that cut gas supplies to many European states.

“The document has been finally signed,” Alexander Medvedev, deputy chief executive of Russia’s state gas export monopoly, Gazprom, told reporters. He said gas supplies to the EU should be restarted at 7am today, although it could take between 36 and 48 hours before the Russian gas would transit Ukraine and cross the EU border.

The agreement sets out the procedures for international observers to deploy at strategic points along pipelines in Russia and Ukraine to monitor the flow of gas. Moscow accuses Kiev of stealing supplies destined for Europe over a dispute with Gazprom relating to unpaid debts and the price of gas the Russian firm wants to charge it in 2009.

EU energy ministers at an emergency meeting in Brussels hailed the agreement as a breakthrough but many urged caution, given that a deal agreed the day before fell part over Russian objections to a Ukrainian declaration attached to the text. “We’ll know tomorrow morning whether the gas will flow,” said Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan, who warned that if the supply was not resumed it would provoke a major crisis.

The Government’s emergency response group on gas met yesterday to discuss contingency plans in case of a shortage in Ireland. Mr Ryan said there were plans under consideration to build a liquid nitrogen storage facility in the Shannon estuary and gas storage facilities in disused gas fields to overcome the State’s vulnerability to shortages.

EU ministers criticised Russia and Ukraine for their failure to secure gas supplies to the union.

“The council . . . disapproves the lack of determination shown to resolve the problem, which has caused great economical harm and suffering to the citizens of the EU and of neighbouring countries and damaged the credibility of both parties,” the Council of Ministers said in its conclusions. It urged EU states to build a common energy policy, provide solidarity to states in difficulty and review their gas storage capabilities.

Mr Medvedev rejected accusations that Gazprom was not a reliable supplier and said Europe had been able to count on Russian supplies for years.

“We value our reputation very much and this reputation has been built, not just over one year, but over decades,” he said, again underscoring that he thought the crisis was Ukraine’s fault.

Whoever was to blame for the disruption, it was eastern European states that suffered most. Bulgaria, where many consumers lost access to gas in sub-zero conditions, said it would ask the EU to provide it with €400 million to build storage facilities and new pipelines to ease its dependence on Russian gas.

Slovakia, which declared a state of emergency last week after its supply was cut off, reported yesterday it was on the brink of a power blackout after a fire forced the partial shutdown of a coal power plant.

It has told the European Commission it wants to reopen a nuclear reactor that was closed under EU rules over safety concerns. The request drew an angry response from Austria, a long-time opponent of nuclear energy.

Mr Ryan said Ireland and Denmark had also intervened to share the concerns expressed by Vienna.