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Russia imposes more gas cuts on Ukraine; Ukraine says gas supplies to Europe wont be affected
A gas pressure gauge of a main gas pipeline from Russia in the village of Boyarka near the capital Kiev, Ukraine on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008. Russia is threatening further gas cuts to Ukraine unless the two neighbors reach an agreement on debt payment and future deliveries. A spokesman for Russia's natural gas monopoly Gazprom says the cuts will take place Tuesday evening on March 4, 2008. On Monday, Gazprom said it had reduced deliveries to Ukraine by about one-third. Much of the natural gas that Russia sells to Western Europe goes through pipelines crossing Ukraine. The reduction of shipments to Ukraine raises concerns that supplies to the West will be affected. - photo by Associated Press
    MOSCOW — Russia’s state-controlled natural gas monopoly on Tuesday slapped another harsh supply cut on Ukraine in a debt and contract dispute being watched nervously by customers in Western Europe.
    Ukraine’s natural gas company said there were no immediate plans to divert Europe-bound gas to supply Ukrainian customers, but held out the possibility it could do so if reserves run low.
    Much of the Russian gas consumed in Europe comes in pipelines crossing Ukraine.
    The Russian monopoly, OAO Gazprom, is demanding Ukraine sign documents resolving a $600 million debt dispute and enabling further gas deliveries. On Monday, it cut shipments by 25 percent.
    Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov announced another 25 percent cut on Tuesday evening and held out the possibility of further reductions.
    A spokesman for Naftogaz, Ukraine’s natural gas company, said earlier Tuesday that the company could begin diverting transit gas if the second cut were imposed. But after Kupriyanov’s announcement, another spokesman said such a move was not in the immediate offing because of warm weather and substantial reserves.
    ‘‘We will do that if our energy security is threatened. At the moment it is not,’’ Valentyn Zemlyansky told The Associated Press in Kiev.
    Siphoning off Europe-bound gas would be a deeply risky move for Ukraine, whose government is seeking closer ties with the West while trying to move out of Moscow’s sphere of influence.
    Gazprom portrays the cutoffs as a straightforward commercial dispute, but suspicions of a political agenda persist. Gazprom is controlled by the state and its chairman, Dmitry Medvedev, is Russia’s president-elect.
    Russia has watched with irritation as Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko pushes for membership in NATO and the European Union.
    On Tuesday, Medvedev urged Kiev to pay the debt in a telephone conversation with Yushchenko, the Russian president-elect’s office said.
    Medvedev told Yushchenko that Russia ‘‘expects an intensification of Kiev’s efforts for the swiftest resolution to the problem of debt for gas that has been delivered,’’ Medvedev’s office said.
    The European Union ‘‘looks to the parties to make every effort to find a rapid and durable solution to their disagreement. In addition, we look to both parties to ensure that gas supplies to the EU remain unaffected,’’ EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said in a statement.
    U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey urged the countries to resolve the dispute.
    ‘‘Cutting off or reducing the flows of gas wouldn’t appear to be the best way, I think, to resolve those differences,’’ he told reporters in Washington. Casey called for a ‘‘predictable flow of energy’’ for Ukraine and the rest of the Europe.
    Only about one-quarter of the gas imported by Ukraine is of Russian origin; the rest comes from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan in pipelines controlled by Gazprom. Naftogaz said that by going ahead with the threatened reduction, Gazprom would be cutting the Central Asian gas as well as Russian-origin gas — a move that ‘‘grossly violates technical agreements between the two companies.’’
    Gazprom last month threatened to cut supplies to Ukraine over a $1.5 billion debt dispute, timed to coincide with Yushchenko’s visit to Moscow. That cutoff was avoided by a last-minute agreement between Yushchenko and President Vladimir Putin.
    But documents formalizing that agreement have not been signed by Ukraine’s natural gas company, and Gazprom says Ukraine still owes $600 million for gas delivered this year.
    Zemlyansky said the current dispute centered on the controversial middlemen companies that are used in the gas trade; he did not elaborate.
    Critics say the laborious arrangement is essentially a mechanism for siphoning money into private pockets and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has called for direct dealings with Gazprom.
    Both the Central Asian gas and the Russian-origin gas that Ukraine imports is purchased from RosUkrEnergo, an intermediary company half-owned by Gazprom and half by two Ukrainian businessmen. The gas in turn is sold to UkrGazEnergo — jointly owned by Naftogaz and RosUkrEnergo — which then supplies Naftogaz.
    The agreement reached by Putin and Yushchenko last month foresaw the elimination of the intermediaries, but Gazprom President Alexei Miller later said two other middlemen operations would be created, each to be half-owned by Gazprom and Naftogaz. Tymoshenko has criticized the agreement.
    Associated Press Writer Maria Danilova in Kiev, Ukraine and Foster Klug in Washington contributed to this report.

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