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Europe

Merkel Says Gas Feud Risks Undermining Russia's Credibility

At talks Friday in Berlin, German Chancellor Merkel is to urge Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to renew gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine. Merkel said Moscow is losing credibility as a result of the gas row.

A gas pressure guage

Merkel is hosting Putin in Berlin ahead of an emergency summit in Moscow

Speaking in Berlin after talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Thursday, Jan. 15, Angela Merkel said the gas dispute, which has left large parts of Europe without heating in freezing temperatures, could end up hurting Moscow's image.

"The danger that Russia will also lose part of its credibility because of these interruptions of (gas) supplies is certainly one that exists," Merkel told reporters. "Tomorrow (Friday) in my talks with Prime Minister Putin, I will have to address this issue," she said, adding that the problems are "an expression of still unsolved political problems" between Russia and Ukraine.

Gordon Brown with Angela Merkel

Both Merkel and Brown stressed the need to end the damaging gas dispute

"We have to restore trust and responsibility," she said.

Brown said the gas feud underlined the necessity for Europe to diversify its energy sources.

"If we cannot rely on supplies from particular areas of the world, then it is all the more important," he said.

Brown was to hold talks in London later Thursday with Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko, his office said.

Talks "long overdue"

The comments came as Russian and Ukrainian leaders agreed Thursday to hold new talks, with Putin's spokesman saying he would meet Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Moscow on Saturday.

The European Union welcomed the move, saying it was long overdue.

Vladimir Putin with Yulia Tymoshenko

Putin's planned talks with Tymoshenko have been welcomed by the EU

"The EU presidency and the European Commission consider that high-level discussions between Russia and Ukraine on this issue are long overdue," Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said in Brussels.

The European Union said it was prepared to send the Czech energy minister, representing the Czech EU presidency, and the EU energy commissioner to take part in the Russia-Ukraine meeting in Moscow on Saturday.

But the EU has so far held off on responding to Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev's proposal to hold a broader summit of all the countries affected by the gas crisis including consumers and transit nations in Moscow the same day.

Accusations and counter-accusations

The latest gas dispute erupted after Russia cut off supplies to Ukraine's domestic market on New Year's Day in a payments row. It then halted deliveries to Europe through Ukraine on January 7, saying it was forced to do so because Ukraine was siphoning the gas.

Ukraine has denied the charge and accuses Russia of provoking a crisis.

The EU over the weekend attempted to break the deadlock by sending observers to both Ukraine and Russia, with no results so far.

Russia attempted to open taps partially on Tuesday but Ukraine said transport of gas to Europe was impossible due to low pressure in Ukraine's gas pipeline system. It demanded Russia restart shipments at full pre-crisis volumes.

A man cuts firewood

A man cuts firewood in Sarajevo as the gas cuts left large parts of Europe without heating in the thick of winter

Officials in Brussels confirmed Thursday that no Russian gas was yet flowing through Ukrainian pipelines and renewed their appeal for supplies to resume "immediately."

A deteriorating energy situation caused by gas shortages was particularly grim in Moldova. There was no hot water throughout the former Soviet republic, and major industrial plants remained idle. Residential heating was minimal with fuel-short central heating plants struggling to bring sufficient warmth to radiators.

"All of this has gone for too long," Laitenberger of the EU Commission said.

The EU relies on Russian gas via Ukraine for around a fifth of its supplies, mostly via Ukraine. Germany, Europe's largest economy, is even more dependent, with Moscow supplying 37 percent of its needs.

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