Saturday, January 17, 2009

Nine Days No Natural Gas to Europe from Russia


Europe's big countries weighed in to try to force Russia to resume natural-gas supplies to the Continent via Ukraine, warning Moscow long-term relations could be damaged if it doesn't start pumping gas soon.

Interventions Thursday by Germany, France and the U.K. came after more than a week of diplomacy and threats by top European Union officials that yielded few results.

The cutoff began after Moscow and Kiev failed to agree to a 2009 price for Russian natural gas. Despite agreements to resume shipments to the EU, gas remained cut off for a ninth day Thursday, leaving parts of the EU without gas to heat homes or operate factories. That has led to complaints the EU lacks a strong foreign policy and permanent heavy-hitting leadership to resolve such a crisis -- leaving national governments to step in.

"Confidence in Russia could be lost in the long term," Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said after meeting U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Berlin.

Ms. Merkel was expected to meet Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Berlin on Friday. Mr. Brown was to meet Ukraine President Viktor Yuschenko in London on Thursday night.

The French foreign ministry appeared to shoot down a Russian proposal to hold an energy summit to break the deadlock in Moscow. "Conditions are not ripe" until gas flows have resumed, said a foreign-ministry spokesman. Ukraine asked for a more neutral location for the summit.

A tougher line from Germany could break the deadlock, analysts said. Germany is Russia's most important gas customer and often an ally for Moscow. German policy makers said they hope to convince Moscow that it can't afford to alienate the EU since Russia needs Western investment and technology to modernize its economy. Ms. Merkel said Thursday, however, that Germany has "no complete alternative."
—Marcus Walker and Andrew Osborn contributed to this article.

Write to John W. Miller at

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