Gas row leaves Europe in the cold

7 Jan 2009, 0002 hrs IST, AGENCIES

VIENNA: Big cuts in Russian gas supplies rippled through in central and eastern Europe on Tuesday in the fallout from the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, raising concerns for heating as bitterly cold weather spreads.

The gas dispute resulted in supplies being cut on Tuesday to Turkey and a swathe of European countries, threatening disruption as far west as Italy and Germany. The European Union, dependent on Russia for a quarter of its gas, urged Moscow and Kiev to find a solution this week. The head of Ukraine's state energy firm said he would fly to Moscow on Thursday.

European Union member states Austria and Romania said deliveries were down by 90% and 75% respectively, and German energy firms warned there could be gas shortages in Europe's biggest economy if the dispute dragged on and sub-zero temperatures persisted. "Even our possibilities will reach their limits if these drastic cuts in shipments last and if temperatures continue to stay at very low levels," E.ON Ruhrgas chief executive Bernhard Reutersberg said.

Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the crisis, which has struck at the height of the European winter and spread alarm across the continent.

Ukraine's neighbor Slovakia will declare a state of emergency, Czech news agency CTK reported. Poland cut gas supplies to industrial clients. The Czech Republic, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, said it was considering the "extreme option" of a three-way EU-Russia-Ukraine summit.

The disruptions come at a bad time for Europe, which is experiencing a cold snap likely to drive up gas demand. "As of 3.30am, supplies ... to Bulgaria as well as the transit to Turkey, Greece and Macedonia have been suspended," Bulgaria's economy ministry said in a statement. "We are in a crisis situation."

Bulgaria is particularly vulnerable to the disruptions because, unlike Greece and Turkey, it has no access to alternative gas supply routes. The dispute threatens to worsen Russia's ties with the west, already fraught after its war with Georgia last year.