Kremlin snubbed as Russia, Ukraine plan gas crisis talks

10:20, 16 January 2009
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Ukraine would hold...

Ukraine prepared Friday to host a summit of eastern European chiefs of state ahead of new talks on its gas war with Moscow, as Europe batted aside a Kremlin proposal for a summit in Moscow to resolve a feud that has left millions of Europeans freezing, according to AFP via Yahoo! News .

Ukraine would hold a summit of six eastern European presidents in Kiev on Friday for talks on its gas war with Russia, the Ukrainian presidential spokesman told AFP on Thursday.

President Viktor Yushchenko was expecting "his five counterparts from eastern Europe, including Poland`s Lech Kaczynski and Lithuania`s Valdas Adamkus who had confirmed their participation," Larisa Mudrak told AFP.

The spokesman refused to elaborate on what other heads of state were to attend the summit on "energy security."

The European Union presidency, chaired by the Czech Republic, said EU member states agreed that the gas row between Russia and Ukraine will have "significant" economic and political consequences for both nations.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown held "constructive" talks in London on Thursday with Yushchenko, Brown`s office said.

Speaking during a visit to Berlin ahead of the meeting, Brown said the crisis "re-emphasised to the world the need to diversify energy supplies."

Yushchenko further upped the stakes by telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by telephone that Moscow should pump the full 330 million cubic metres a day due to European consumers, which Ukraine would then pass on to Europe.

Russia has accused Ukraine of blocking a partial resumption of supplies.

A spokesman for Vladimir Putin said the powerful Russian prime minister would meet Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Moscow on Saturday to discuss efforts to get Russian gas through Ukraine to European consumers.

Putin proposed to the head of Italian energy giant ENI that European firms form a consortium to buy the gas needed to ensure the transit of Russian gas to Europe.

Putin was expected to hold talks with Merkel in Berlin on Friday that are likely to be overshadowed by Russia`s move to turn off gas supplies to Ukraine, which it accuses of not paying energy debts and siphoning off gas.

"The danger that Russia will also lose part of its credibility because of these interruptions of supplies is certainly one that exists, and tomorrow in my talks with... Putin, I will have to address this issue," Merkel said.

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

EU ambassadors met with the Czech EU presidency and agreed that "the current situation is damaging the credibility of Russia and Ukraine as reliable supply and transit countries," the EU presidency said in a statement.

The 27 members felt "this situation will have significant financial, economic and political consequences for both countries," it added.

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

After an invitation by the Kremlin to European leaders to attend the summit, France responded that Russia and Ukraine should resume gas exports to Europe first while the EU presidency said the meeting should be held in Europe.

"As long as gas deliveries from Russia and Ukraine have not resumed in line with their commitments, conditions are not ripe for a summit," said Eric Chevallier, a French foreign ministry spokesman.

The EU, which has voiced growing concern over the crisis as gas stocks in Europe run low, said the summit should not be held in Moscow but on EU territory -- a view echoed by the Ukrainian leadership.

Gas-fired central heating has been reduced or cut off for millions of Europeans in the crisis, schools have been shut down and factories closed as a huge swathe of central Europe and the Balkans struggles to cope.

The EU depends on Russian gas via Ukraine for a fifth of its total supplies.

Russia cut off supplies to Ukraine`s domestic market on New Year`s Day in a payment dispute and then halted deliveries to Europe via Ukraine on January 7, saying it was forced to do so because Kiev was stealing the gas.

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

 

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