EU to monitor gas deliveries to Ukraine
Deal resolves bitter dispute with Russia
KIEV - Ukraine today accepted a deal on the European Union-led monitoring of Russian gas transit across its territory, opening the way for restarting Russian natural gas supplies to a freezing Europe after a four-day halt in shipments.
Russia wanted the written deal to renew gas shipments suspended amid a bitter contract dispute with Ukraine, a move seen by many as another attempt by Moscow to reassert its clout over Western-leaning former Soviet republics.
Russia said it needs European Union monitors deployed to Ukraine to prevent it from stealing Russian gas intended for Europe. Ukraine hotly denied the claims.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the Czech Republic, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, shuttled between Moscow and Kiev yesterday to mediate the deal. He finally persuaded Ukraine to accept the monitoring pact during lengthy talks that extended past midnight.
"Nothing prevents Russia now from resuming gas supplies," Topolanek said after Ukrainian officials endorsed the deal.
"We once again have shown our goodwill," Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of Ukraine said, adding that the monitoring mission would uphold her nation's image as an "honest transit country."
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised that Russia will resume gas shipments once the deal is signed and monitors are in place.
Putin didn't say how quickly Russia may restart supplies, but Bohdan Sokolovsky, an energy adviser to the Ukrainian president, said it would take Russia about 30 hours to begin gas deliveries and it would then take another 36 hours for Ukraine to move gas to its western border.
Russia supplies about a quarter of the EU's natural gas, most of it shipped through Ukraine, and the disruption has come during a harsh winter. At least 11 people have frozen to death this week in Europe, including 10 in Poland, where temperatures have sunk to minus 13 degrees.
Ukraine initially objected to the monitoring pact, voicing concern that it could give Russian officials too much access to the Ukrainian gas transit system.