KIEV, Jan. 13 – Russia’s restart of natural gas supplies to the European Union collapsed on Tuesday after Gazprom had selected a route that would completely shut gas supplies to several Ukrainian regions.
President Viktor Yushchenko’s top energy security aide, Bohdan Sokolovskiy, said the selection of the route was “provocative” and designed to make the Ukrainian gas pipeline system fail.
But Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said later the Ukrainian gas pipeline system was broken, and said Gazprom would again try to restart the supplies – along the same route – on Wednesday.
The development marks the worst escalation of the standoff between Russia and Ukraine over the past 90 years, since Russian troops had taken over Kiev following the Bolshevik revolution.
Yushchenko, in comments televised by the state-owned television Tuesday night, said Russia has been blackmailing “every” Ukrainian and threatening to undermine their stability.
“The Ukrainian nation, every person living in Ukraine must understand: what has been happening between January 1 and through now is not a blackmail of the country. This is blackmail of every one of you,” Yushchenko said.
“This is one of the ways of increasing risks for your existence, for stability. This must help us get united, make us more courageous, consistent and clear,” he said.
Yulia Latynina, a Moscow-based independent journalist and a frequent critic of Vladimir Putin, said the standoff basically has the same roots as Russia’s recent war with Georgia, which, like Ukraine, has been seeking to join NATO.
She said Putin has been probably seeking to overthrow Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, just like he wanted to overthrow Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili in August.
“Our prime minister has said that he will not forgive Yushchneko” for his support for Saakashvili during the Russian-Georgian war, Latynina said. “This is personal now.”
“One can be happy that this is not taking place with tanks, but with natural gas,” Latynina said. “Putin has said that gas is our energy weapon, so we have just deployed the energy weapon. The West can see [the weapon] in all its beauty.”
The European Union, which gets a quarter of its gas from Russia, has been desperately trying to resume the supplies as many European countries, such as Bulgaria and Slovakia, have been facing significant supply disruptions.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who negotiated the restart of the Russian gas supplies over the weekend, called his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko, asking about the reasons for the failed restart.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, also called Tymoshenko and Putin on Tuesday, trying to find out why has the restart of gas supplies failed.
Prime ministers of Bulgaria and Slovakia are due to visit Kiev on Wednesday, and will also travel to Moscow for a meeting with Putin, to try to resume the supplies, according to Tymoshenko’s press service.
Gazprom, which without warning cut off gas supplies to the EU on January 7, planned to restart the supplies on Tuesday.
Gazprom informed Naftogaz in the morning that it plans to move 76.6 million cubic meters of gas Sudzha gas measuring station in Russia through the Ukrainian pipeline system to Orlovka in the Odessa region towards Bulgaria and Romania.
But such supply route would lead to the cutoff of gas supplies to Ukraine’s industrial region of Donesk, Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa, Oleh Dubyna, the head of Naftogaz Ukrayiny, said.
The Ukrainian gas pipeline system, one of the largest such facilities in the world, has been working in emergency mode since January 7 after Gazprom suspended gas supplies to the EU.
The system was reversed and has been essentially moving gas from underground gas tanks in the western regions of Ukraine, towards the eastern regions, such as Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk.
To reverse the system quickly, with the small amount of gas that Russia has pledged to move on Tuesday, was technically impossible without completely suspending supplies to Ukraine’s eastern regions.
“We asked them to send the gas through Sudzha, Valiyki and Pysarivka,” Dubyna said. “But Russia did not support this proposition.”
“This is all done deliberately, so that they can one more time put the blame on Ukraine and to question its image as a reliable transit country,” Bohdan Sokolovskiy, Yushchenko’s top energy envoy, said. (sb/ez)