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Europe

Gas Dispute Nearing an End as Russia Agrees to Monitors

The gas crisis escalated this week when Russia cut off all deliveries to Europe flowing through the Ukraine. Now a breakthrough in the negotiations could mean the end of the dispute.

Gas pressure gauge pointing to zero

Russia turned off gas supplies to Europe flowing through the Ukraine on Wednesday

Russia agreed Thursday to allow monitors to observe Russian gas flow through Ukraine in a move that "should" lead to the resumption of gas supplies to the European Union, the Czech EU presidency said.

Ten to 12 observers from the European gas industry and the European Commission were due on the ground as early as Friday.

The breakthrough followed talks between Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country chairs the EU until June 30, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the presidency said in a statement.

"Now the only decision missing is to put the gas in the system again," a Czech official close to the talks said.

Earlier Thursday, talks in Brussels on renewal of gas deliveries to Europe fell through because Ukraine rejected Gazprom's demand to include its own observers in the EU's monitoring mission, Czech officials said. The reversal in Russia's stance came hours after the failed negotiations.

Ukraine then quickly reassured the European Union of its readiness to restart gas deliveries to western Europe.

As soon as Russia ends its delivery ban, Ukraine would guarantee gas transit to the West, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko told EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in a phone discussion, the Interfax news agency said, quoting sources in the Kyiv presidential office.

Negotiations to continue

A man walks past the snow-covered golden dome of the Alexander Nevski Cathedral in the Bulgarian capital Sofia

Bulgaria, in particular, has suffered from the gas crisis

While the gas shortage continues to affect parts of Europe, frustration is growing in Brussels over the failure of the two countries to agree on the participation of Russian experts in the observer mission.

Moscow expected talks between Russian state-run gas provider Gazprom and its Ukrainian counterpart Naftogaz to continue on Friday.

According to the Itar-Tass news agency, there were indications that Gazprom chief Alexei Miller and Naftogaz head Oleg Dubina were to meet in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

Russia shut down gas deliveries flowing to Europe via Ukraine on Wednesday amid a row with Ukraine over a new delivery contract and alleged unpaid bills. Russia accused Ukraine of stealing gas bound for Europe, an allegation that Ukraine has rejected.

The cut-off left several European countries with dwindling gas supplies amid below-freezing winter temperatures.

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