No supply deal at Kremlin gas conference

Park Sae-jin Reporter() | Posted : January 18, 2009, 12:34 | Updated : January 18, 2009, 12:34

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L), President Dmitry Medvedev (C) 
and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechinattend a Kremlin meeting of nations involved in the gas dispute in Moscow.

Russian and Ukrainian leaders talked into the night in search of a deal to restore gas supplies to a freezing Europe.

A meeting earlier Saturday that also included officials from the 27-nation European Union ended without a resolution to a dispute between Moscow and Kiev that has drastically reduced supplies of Russian gas to Europe for nearly two weeks.

After hosting EU energy chiefs, government officials from gas-starved Balkan nations and Kremlin-friendly ex-Soviet republics, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed confidence in a swift settlement.

"I'm certain that we will resolve the transit problem in the nearest future," he told a news conference.

But EU officials left without any assurance of a restoration of shipments of Russian gas via Ukraine, normally the route for about one-fifth of the gas Europe uses. Nations in eastern Europe that rely on Russia have been left with virtually no new supplies.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko, who had met briefly before joining the broader conference in the Kremlin, resumed their talks afterward in the government headquarters a few miles (kilometers) upriver.

The EU has threatened to review its relations with both countries if their dispute is not resolved this weekend.

"What matters are results, and the results as of this evening were not satisfactory, because there was not an agreement," EU spokesman Ferran Tarradellas said. "We need an agreement."

He said the EU delegation was "encouraged by the discussions" because Russia and Ukraine were seeking solutions rather than just blaming each other.

The Kremlin had billed the meeting as a summit, but no EU head of state attended. The EU was represented by its Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and Czech Energy Minister Martin Riman, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

Of Putin's talks with Tymoshenko, Riman said hopefully, "We expect them to lead to a resumption of gas deliveries."

Before flying to Moscow for the talks, Tymoshenko acknowledged that her country's image had been damaged by the dispute. But she said reaching a deal would be extremely difficult.

Putin, in Germany early Saturday, reiterated accusations that Ukraine has stolen gas and is trying to use its control over pipelines to "blackmail" Russia into selling Ukraine gas at an unreasonably low price.

Putin has promoted a possible stopgap solution, enlisting leading European gas companies for a consortium that would pay for "technical gas" needed to get Ukraine's pipeline up and running and ensure deliveries.

Medvedev said that proposal was still on the table, but it was unclear whether Ukraine would agree. An aide to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who refused to come to Russia for the conference, earlier this week dismissed the idea as a Kremlin attempt to acquire control of Ukraine's pipeline network.

Another possibility, Medvedev said, would be a credit in a European bank that would be used to ensure Russia is paid.

Russia stopped shipping gas to Ukraine for domestic use on Jan. 1 when the countries could not agree on a price. It then accused Ukraine of siphoning off gas bound for Europe and turned off the taps entirely on Jan. 7.

Russia resumed piping a limited amount of gas toward Ukraine on Tuesday after the EU secured a deal for its monitors check flows, but the gas did not reach Europe. Russia says Ukraine is blocking shipments to European consumers, while Kiev says Russia wants to send gas along a route that would disrupt supplies to Ukrainian consumers.

Geopolitical struggles over Ukraine's future and export routes for the energy riches of the former Soviet Union underlie the commercial dispute.

Russia and Ukraine have been at odds since the 2004 Orange Revolution brought President Viktor Yushchenko to power. His avid push for Ukraine to join NATO and the EU has angered Moscow.

By Catrina Stewart, Nataliya Vasilyeva, Raf Casert, ans Vladimir Isachenkov (AP)

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