Russia and the EU have come closer to securing gas supplies in Europe as they sign a deal on monitoring supplies that pass through Ukraine. The Czech prime minister heads to Kyiv for talks on Saturday, Jan. 10.
Gas could soon be flowing normally through Ukraine to Europe
The deal for international observers to monitor the Russian shipments via the Ukraine was signed after five hours of talks between Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and EU officials.
Russia will resume gas supply to Europe through Ukraine as soon as monitors are in place but will cut it again if it sees any "theft" by Ukraine, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Saturday.
The dispute began when Russia and Ukraine could not agree on gas prices for the coming year and Russia cut off gas supplies on Jan. 1.
Russia has accused Ukraine of corruption and of stealing gas meant for Europe. Ukraine has countered that Russia is trying to blackmail it by its actions so it can substantially raise its prices.
Gas supplies in eastern Europe have been affected
The row has led to the worst-ever disruption of Russian gas supplies to Europe. It has resulted in factories having to close down in eastern Europe and renewed fears in the EU over the reliability of Russian gas supplies. Europe gets about a quarter of its gas supplies from Russia, 80 percent of which passes through Ukraine.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, holder of the EU's presidency, was expected in Kyiv later Saturday for talks with the Ukrainian prime minister after Russian and EU officials signed the monitoring agreement.
Russia had said it wanted a written deal in place before resuming shipments, but it also needs to be signed by Ukraine to come into force.
Ukraine said it could sign an agreement to verify the flow of Russian gas to Europe on Saturday.
The agreement could be signed "already today," Deputy Prime Minister Grygory Nemyrya told reporters. "I am hoping" that it will be signed on Saturday, he said.
Cutting wood near Sarajevo to sell after deliveries of Russian natural gas to Bosnia were stopped
An EU monitoring team is already in Kyiv at the headquarters of the Ukrainian natural gas transportation company Ukrtransnafta for inspections of volume counting equipment and company records, said Volodymyr Trikolich, an Ukrtransgaz spokesman, at a Kyiv press conference.
An advance team of eight EU technicians arrived in Ukraine on Friday as part of a Brussels plan to end bickering between Kyiv and the Kremlin over natural gas shipments, by placing independent monitors in Ukraine to supervise Russian exports to Europe moving through Ukrainian pipelines.
A total 18 observers will work in Ukraine until the standoff between Russia and Ukraine over gas shipments is resolved, EU officials said Friday. Ukraine has suggested the monitors take up observation at the six main pipelines carrying Russian gas into Ukraine, and at Uktransnafta headquarters.
Russian gas giant Gazprom has taken a tough position in the gas dispute with Ukraine
The actual field locations of the EU observers for the monitoring mission had not been made public by late afternoon Saturday.
The EU observers visiting Ukrtransnafta obtained full access to monitoring equipment and company archives, Trikolich claimed.
Russian observers were "welcome" to perform their own independent inspections, he added.
The presence of independent observers to watch Russian gas exports to Europe via Ukrainian pipelines was a key pre-condition set by Moscow for an end to a total embargo on such shipments, imposed last week.