Russian gas 'still not going through'

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Russia started pumping gas to Europe via Ukraine yesterday for the first time in nearly a week, but the EU said little or no gas was flowing to countries suffering urgent shortages.

Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom, accused Ukraine of siphoning off the gas for its own use. Ukraine's state energy firm said it could not ship the gas without cutting off several of its own regions. Technicians at Russia's Sudzha pumping station, near the border with Ukraine, opened gas taps at 10am local time. But no gas was heading for south-east Europe, which has borne the brunt of the cut-off, causing factory closures and heating shortages during bitter weather, Bulgaria's state gas monopoly said.

The European Commission said Europe needed the gas urgently and an aide to Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he expressed disappointment in a call to Russian Prime Minister Mr Putin over the low volumes pumped by Russia. An EU official in Brussels said there was only a small flow of gas thus far.

"Ukraine asked for a full 350 million cubic metres per day. Russia said they had to start slowly. They started with 1 million cubic metres per hour in Sudzha. That was supposed to be increased but the latest news I have is that it is going down or going towards zero," the official said.