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Berlin to host talks on Russia-Ukraine gas row

AFP · 6 Jan 2009, 14:22

Published: 06 Jan 2009 14:22 GMT+01:00

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Industry and Commerce Minister Martin Riman is to confer with Alexander Medvedev, number two at the Russian state-owned gas giant, at the Czech embassy in the German capital, the source said.

Beforehand, Medvedev will also meet German Economy Minister Michael Glos, German officials said.

The meetings, to be followed by a news briefing, come as the six-day-old dispute between Russia and Ukraine triggered major supply cuts in Europe on Tuesday. Earlier an EU delegation met Ukrainian officials in Kiev.

Russian news agencies quoted Medvedev as saying that Ukraine had shut down three of four strategic pipelines that carry Russian gas to customers in Europe via Ukrainian territory.

Ukraine's state gas firm Naftogaz charged earlier that Gazprom had sharply reduced the volume of gas it was pumping through Ukraine's pipeline network for European clients, blaming the European shortfalls on the Russian company.

Worst hit have been countries in southeastern Europe, with officials in Sofia reporting that deliveries of Russian gas to Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia and Turkey had been halted overnight.

Austria said that deliveries of Russian gas had fallen to 10 percent of the expected amount, while Croatia, Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic also reported shortfalls.

But in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, the country's two biggest gas importers on Tuesday also reported the first effects of the crisis.

EON, Ruhrgas and Wingas both insisted they had enough reserves to cope with the crisis but complained that gas flows had dropped dramatically.

Bernhard Reutersberg, EON Ruhrgas chairman, which imports 26 percent of its gas from Russia, said "our limits will be tested if this dramatic drop in supply continues and temperatures remain at these very low levels."

As with much of central Europe, Germany is currently experiencing a bitter cold snap with temperatures plummeting overnight to as low as -26 degrees Celsius (-14.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

Earlier Glos called for Ukraine and Moscow to return to the negotiating table and hammer out a deal that was "long-term and sustainable."

"We could do without this dispute every year," he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine daily. "I see no reason why both sides are unable to agree. The talks have been going on for months."

Story continues below…

Russia cut its gas supply to Ukraine's domestic market on January 1 as part of a bitter payment dispute and has since accused Ukraine of illegally removing gas transiting its country for clients further downstream in Europe.

Ukraine denies stealing and has accused Russia of engineering the crisis.

The European Union depends on Russia for around a quarter of its total gas supplies, some 80 percent of which are pumped through Ukraine. A similar Russia-Ukraine dispute three years ago disrupted supplies across Europe.

Germany gets 37 percent of its gas from Russia, either via Ukraine or Belarus. Berlin said last week German gas firms had reserves covering a quarter of the country's yearly needs.

"Gas storage sites are full. And Germany gets its gas from different sources, for example from Norway or the Netherlands. Supplies from there could be increased" in case of shortages, Glos said.

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