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Relief in Europe as Russia resumes flow of gas

January 21, 2009|Associated Press

PISAREVKA, RUSSIA — Russian natural gas finally flowed across Ukraine into Europe again Tuesday, after Moscow and Kiev pulled back from a dispute that drastically reduced supplies to many nations for two tough weeks.

Russian gas monopoly Gazprom began pumping to Ukraine about 10:30 a.m., spokesman Boris Sapozhnikov said from the Sudzha metering station on the border. Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz confirmed that gas was flowing through Sudzha, Pisarevka and other gas metering stations on its eastern border.

Several hours later, gas began crossing Ukraine's western border into Slovakia, and deliveries were reported in Hungary, Bulgaria and Moldova -- some of the nations hardest hit by the dispute. Farther west, gas also reached Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Croatia.

The 27-nation European Union gets about a quarter of its natural gas from Russia.

Moscow had halted the flow in a dispute with Ukraine, which had balked at increased prices for 2009. Russia first cut off shipments to Ukraine, and then, alleging that it was stealing gas destined for Europe, shut off all gas Jan 7. Ukraine denied the charge, saying Russia had not sent enough "technical gas" to pump the rest toward Europe.

More than 15 nations in the Balkans and East Europe were left scrambling for alternative energy sources. Thousands of factories shut down for lack of fuel and millions of people shivered in unheated homes.

The European Union met the renewed deliveries with relief and remonstrations.

"It was utterly unacceptable that European gas consumers were held hostage to this dispute between Russia and Ukraine," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

Slovakia was forced to ration gas, favoring homes and hospitals. About 1,000 companies had to halt or limit production. Impoverished Moldova used heating oil for power plants, and its people used wood fires for heating.

Serbia and Bosnia, at odds for years, came together as Serbia shared some of its supplies.

Ukraine agreed to pay about double the $179.50 per 1,000 cubic meters that it paid last year, but less than Russia had sought. In 2010, both countries are to pay market prices, Ukraine for the gas and Russia for transit access.

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