ENERGY : EU CALLS RUSSIAN GAS CUTS 'UNACCEPTABLE'.

In a joint statement, the Czech EU Presidency and the European Commission noted that substantial cuts in Russian gas supplies to the EU are "unacceptable". Gas supplies should be restored "immediately" and Ukraine and Russia should resume negotiations at once. "Without prior warning and in clear contradiction with the reassurances given by the highest Russian and Ukrainian authorities to the European Union, gas supplies to some EU member states have been substantially cut," read the statement, issued on 6 January. The dispute is a repeat of the row in 2006 over gas prices and debts between Ukraine and Russia. Gazprom now claims Ukraine owes over US$614 million in unpaid debts for 2008. Some 80% of the EU's gas supply passes through Ukraine.

FAILED FACT-FINDING MISSIONS

Clearly, the EU's fact-finding' missions to Ukraine and with Gazprom officials in Berlin, on 5 and 6 January, failed to bring any concrete results in this latest gas dispute as temperatures in Europe dropped considerably. Russian monopoly Gazprom had decided to cut supplies to Ukraine, on 1 January, by 100%, or 110 million cubic metres of gas per day. The situation worsened in the night of 5 to 6 January, as Gazprom's CEO Alexei Miller, after meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, went on to "significantly" cut gas transited to Europe through Ukraine. Turkey, one of the first countries to report cuts, noted that Russian gas supplies transited through Ukraine had ceased completely. Complete cuts were also noted on 6 January in Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia. Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have experienced significant cuts, up to 90%.

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs had promised "intense contacts" with all the parties involved to identify the causes of the "irregularities" as well as ask for the immediate resumption of full deliveries of gas to the EU. A Commission spokesperson, though, refused, on 5 January, to say who has cut supplies, merely noting a "number of irregularities". The dispute is also solely a "bilateral and commercial" problem between Russia and Ukraine for the Commission.

The EU's fact-finding' mission was composed of top officials, including Andris Kesteris, head of cabinet for Commissioner Piebalgs, DG TREN Director-General Matthias Ruete and for the Czech Presidency Martin Riman, the Czech industry minister, and Vaclav Bartuska, ambassador at large for energy. EU ministers, too, are set, to discuss the dispute at the informal...

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