Russia vows swift return of EU gas

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Russia has vowed to resume full gas supplies to the European Union as swiftly as possible - and insisted the crisis over shortages was entirely the fault of Ukraine.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, after a last-minute hitch yesterday, Ukraine signed an accord acceptable to Moscow which would mean monitoring teams could soon be deployed to verify resumption of gas flows to EU countries.

Meanwhile, he said, the head of Russia's state gas company Gazprom, Alexey Miller, and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, would both be attending talks this afternoon in Brussels with EU energy ministers to help speed up a return to normal gas services.

Mr Peskov, speaking in a conference call from Moscow to journalists, said: "Moscow has been informed that Ukraine has signed an acceptable agreement. We hope this is the case."

But he warned: "It will take a certain time before the pipelines can begin flowing again with natural gas. Gazprom is continuing to do whatever possible to resume transit (of EU-bound gas through Ukraine) in the coming days.

"Right now our representatives, Deputy Prime Minister Sechin and Mr Miller, are on way to Brussels to use the opportunity of the (EU) ministerial meeting to convey once again (the) position of Russian and to discuss ways of resuming the gas flow to European consumers in the coming hours and days".

The dispute between Russia and Ukraine has left a dozen EU countries on reduced Russian gas deliveries - or virtually none in some cases - in the midst of sub-zero temperatures.

Russia turned off the gas tap to Ukraine on New Year's Day, over claims Kiev had not paid its bills. Russia then claimed Ukraine was siphoning off Europe's supplies to offset its own shortfall. About 80% of Russian gas destined for EU customers goes via Ukraine.

The European Commission has been mediating between Moscow and Kiev over the weekend, but a deal was dashed on Sunday night when Ukraine added to the terms of an agreement a declaration insisting it had not got any unpaid gas bills, and had not siphoned off gas bound for the EU.

Monday's breakthrough, once confirmed by Russia, drops any such declaration from the agreement to send in monitors to check gas flows as services resume.