Turkmenistan accused Moscow on Friday of violating its gas agreement with the Central Asian state, sharpening its rhetoric in a row that has halted supplies to Russia, Reuters reported.

Flows from Central Asia`s top gas producer to Russia stopped on Thursday following a pipeline explosion which Turkmenistan said happened because Russia had abruptly cut gas imports. Russia says the accident would not affect customers in Europe.

"This accident happened due to a unilateral and egregious violation by Russian company Gazprom Export of agreements and rules of natural gas purchases," Turkmenistan`s Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued in the early hours of Friday.

Gas trade is a sensitive issue in Russia`s relations with other former Soviet republics, with supply rows often escalating into full-blown diplomatic stand-offs.

A Russia-Ukraine gas crisis cut supplies to Europe in the middle of winter this year, raising concerns about the reliability of Russian supplies.

As diplomacy intensified over Turkmen gas, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to visit the Caspian nation on Friday to attend a scheduled ministerial conference.

Lavrov will separately meet Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. A senior official from Russia`s Gazprom, Valery Golubev, was also due to visit Turkmenistan on Friday.

Turkmenistan, a desert nation bordering Afghanistan and Iran, says Gazprom cut imports on April 8 without warning. A sharp drop in gas pressure led to the rupture, it said.


The blast occurred on Turkmenistan`s border with Uzbekistan, flat terrain dotted by villages, but the extent of the damage was unclear. There was no word on casualties.

It was the second accident in the former Soviet Union this month and analysts said ageing infrastructure may be to blame.

In a separate statement, Turkmenistan denied allegations that the explosion had been caused by outdated infrastructure.

"Turkmenistan has modernised a significant part of its energy sector since independence," the Foreign Ministry said.

Gazprom has not commented on the Turkmen accusations.

Analysts said however that Gazprom (GAZP.MM) would benefit from a halt of Turkmen gas flows at a time when it is suffering from a slump in gas demand in Europe.

Gazprom normally cannot meet both its export obligations and peak demand at home without the Turkmen gas but the deepening financial crisis has changed the picture. [ID:nL9960893]

On Thursday, Gazprom said its output would fall 12 percent this year and stay at low levels for a few more years, while oil firms, such as LUKOIL (LKOH.MM), have said Gazprom had asked them to trim production of gas in Russia.