Pleas, but no progress, in European natural gas crisis
Moscow, Kiev maintain that other is at fault
MOSCOW - Heated complaints from European leaders failed yesterday to thaw the deep-rooted economic and political dispute between Russia and Ukraine that has blocked natural gas shipments to much of Europe in the dead of winter.
With the crisis moving into its second week, Moscow and Kiev both held rigidly to allegations that the other country was to blame for upending Europe's winter heating plans. The European Union appeared to have little leverage other than pleading for a restoration of the gas that heats its homes and powers its factories. Even EU threats of a possible wave of lawsuits did not move either nation into action.
In an apparent indication that no resolution is on the horizon, President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia proposed European gas-consuming countries send their leaders to Moscow on Saturday for a summit.
Both Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of holding Europe hostage, while Kiev said Russia was deliberately erecting technical obstacles to delivering gas to Europe through Ukrainian pipelines. Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, called the situation "unacceptable and incredible" and said he would urge EU energy companies to sue if a resolution doesn't come soon.
That suggestion was embraced by Ukraine's president. "We are ready to support any European efforts to force our Russian partners to resume full contract supplies," Viktor Yushchenko said in Poland after meeting with President Lech Kaczynski of Poland.
The crisis has deepened European concerns about Russia's willingness to use its energy riches as a political tool. It also raised questions about the reliability of Ukraine, whose pro-Western leaders want to join the EU but are mired in dangerous disputes with Russia and intramural rivalries that have nearly paralyzed the government.
About 20 percent of Europe's gas comes from Russia via Ukrainian pipelines. Bulgaria and Slovakia are entirely dependent on Russia for gas and the cutoff that began Jan. 7 has inflicted wide hardships on their people in the middle of a harsh winter.
Russia stopped selling gas to Ukraine on Jan. 1 because of a price dispute, then accused Ukraine of stealing Europe-bound gas and tuned off the taps entirely on Jan. 7.
EU countries had hoped supplies would be restored Tuesday after they brokered a deal sending monitors to keep tabs on the flow of gas. But while Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom resumed some gas supplies, Ukraine did not send the gas on to Europe, saying the route that Gazprom demanded would force Ukraine to halt domestic gas supplies to a large swath of territory.