Russia halves Ukraine gas shipments
(MOSCOW) - Gazprom said on Friday it had recently halved Russia's natural gas shipments to Europe through Ukraine as part of efforts to reduce deliveries through the troublesome transit nation.
The Russian monopoly said it had cut back its deliveries across the former Soviet republic by 47 percent from earlier volumes and denied Ukrainian claims that the drop was dictated by falling demand in Europe.
"This is only the beginning," Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said in a statement.
"We are at the start of a long journey aimed at diverting gas transit from Ukraine to our (Belarus) subsidiary Beltransgaz and our new subsea pipelines," the Gazprom spokesman said.
The deputy head of Ukraine's oil firm Naftogaz had earlier said that daily shipments through his company's transport network had dropped to 180-200 million cubic metres of gas from 400 million cubic metres earlier in the week.
"This is probably because Europe does not currently need such high volumes," Naftogaz deputy chief Vadim Chuprun was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
About 80 percent of Russia's gas shipments to EU nations go through Ukraine.
There were no immediate complaints of shortages from Gazprom's private and public EU clients -- an indirect sign of the reduction being either planned in advance or requested by the Europeans in response to recent warm weather.
Russia has twice halted gas deliveries to Europe across Ukraine in the last six years over its neighbour's outstanding debts and refusal to agree to higher gas prices.
Ukraine on both occasions accused Russia of using gas as a weapon to pressure its government to adopt more pro-Moscow policies.
Kiev is now trying to rework a January 2009 agreement whose signing led to the eventual conviction and imprisonment of Ukraine's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko for abuse of power.
Russia has offered to renegotiate the 10-year deal in exchange for control of Ukraine's pipeline network -- an offer that Kiev rejects.
Gazprom last year launched the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea and is now also sending more gas through Belarus after winning full control of that ex-Soviet nation's pipeline network.
Ukraine's failure to negotiate a gas lower price forced its government this month to seek to restructure some $3 billion it owed the International Monetary Fund in 2012 under a 2008-2009 programme.
That prompted Standard and Poor's to revised down Ukraine's rating outlook to "negative" -- a move that threatened to further isolate the ex-Soviet nation from foreign creditors.
The gas spat and Tymoshenko's subsequent imprisonment has also sent a diplomatic chill into Ukraine's once-warming relations with the European Union.
Ukraine had hoped to sign a so-called Associate Agreement with the bloc last year that would serve as the first stepping stone to its eventual permanent EU membership.
The European Union decided to delay the deal because of Ukraine's prosecution of Tymoshenko and her former government allies.
Ukraine's foreign ministry said the two sides "initialled" the Associate Agreement in Brussels on Friday -- a preliminary step before the actual signature of a deal.
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