Monday

23rd Sep 2019

EU monitors to end Russia-Ukraine gas war

  • Ukraine pipe: the gas will restart when EU monitors arrive in Ukraine, Gazprom said (Photo: Naftogaz of Ukraine)

The shape of an EU-dominated monitoring team that is to end the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute became clearer on Thursday (8 January), while EU ministers agreed the problem has taken on a Europe-wide political dimension.

"We have an agreement with the EU that when the international observers are in place in Ukraine and have access to the transit stations, we will immediately restore gas supplies to Europe," Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said in Brussels, as the Russian and Ukrainian diplomatic machines hit the EU capital.

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The monitoring committee is to comprise European Commission officials, delegates from affected EU companies and staff from the Russian and Ukrainian energy ministries, with 10 EU firms having already confirmed they will take part, Mr Miller explained.

The Gazprom chief said he had given "a relevant document, a protocol" on the mandate of the monitoring mission to EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs. Ukraine officials said they had signed a formal invitation for European Commission staff to enter the country.

Mr Miller and his Ukrainian counterpart, Naftogaz CEO Oleh Dubyna, also talked face-to-face in Brussels on Thursday. But the encounter - in a side room in the European Parliament - failed to see an immediate breakthrough, with the Gazprom chairman afterward attacking Naftogaz.

"Any companies who believe they have suffered as a result of this have the right to sue Ukraine," Mr Miller said.

Eastern European EU states such as Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia have faced a second wintry day on zero gas deliveries, with Bulgarian schools closed and hospitals forced to turn away low-risk patients.

"If things keep going on like this, there is a risk someone may die," a Bulgarian diplomat said.

Russia stopped pumping gas to the EU via Ukraine on Wednesday after accusing Naftogaz of "stealing" supplies, in a long-running price dispute. But Ukraine says the Russian gas simply stopped flowing, with the EU unable to verify who to blame.

No longer just a 'commercial dispute'

EU foreign ministers and deputy foreign ministers meeting in Prague on Thursday framed a joint declaration also calling for independent monitoring of gas transit.

The ministers abandoned the previous European Commission and Czech EU presidency position that the gas crunch is a bilateral commercial problem for Russia and Ukraine.

"There was a general understanding that this is already a political problem for Ukraine, Russia and the EU, especially due to the suffering of EU citizens and the EU economy," a high-level source at the meeting told EUobserver.

Bulgarian Socialist MEP Evgeni Kirilov at a snap meeting of the European Parliament foreign affairs committee indicated the level of political fallout the crisis will have.

"We are in a humanitarian emergency in our country and we are losing millions every day," he said. "I insist an independent investigation find out who is the more irresponsible and that they face severe sanctions."

Gas war casualties

Ukraine deputy prime minister Hryhoriy Nemyria reminded MEPs that when Russia first cut off gas to Ukraine in 2006, 186 Ukrainian people died as a result.

Ukraine MP and ex-foreign minister Boris Tarasyuk painted the gas war as a continuation of Russia's aggression against Georgia, in a campaign to secure power in the EU's post-Soviet neighbours.

"The attempt [by Gazprom] to raise gas prices from $179 [€130 per thousand cubic metres] to $450 is an attempt to destroy the Ukrainian economy and to show the EU who is boss in the shop," Mr Tarasyuk said.

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