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Ukraine and Russia will hold new talks this week aimed at resolving a bitter dispute over Russia's cutoff of natural gas to the independent nation, a disruption that has affected much of Europe.
The head of Ukraine's Naftogaz, Oleh Dubina, said he would travel to Moscow for talks on Thursday. He made the decision after talking to Alexei Miller, the chief executive of Gazprom, Russia's state-run petroleum giant. The negotiations would be the first since the crisis began Jan. 1.
Ukrainian officials said Moscow, which supplies a quarter of Europe's natural gas needs, had cut the flow by 75 percent to a major pipeline that snakes through Ukraine on its way to Eastern and Central Europe.
The European Union on Tuesday warned of a looming emergency and called the situation "completely unacceptable." In a strongly worded statement, the EU complained that gas had been cut "without prior warning and in clear contradiction with the reassurances given by the highest Russian and Ukrainian authorities to the European Union."
European Union member state Austria said deliveries were down 90 percent, while Romania reported a 75 percent fall. In Germany, Europe's largest economy, energy firms warned of shortages amid subzero temperatures.
Bulgaria, which gets almost all its gas from Russia, said it would seek the reopening of its Kozlodui nuclear power facility as two cities were left without gas. Greece, Macedonia, Croatia and Turkey have also been affected.
Dimitar Gogov, head of Bulgarian pipeline operator Bulgargaz, said reserves were sufficient to cover the industry's needs "for a few days."
Gazprom halted supplies to Ukraine on New Year's Day owing to gas bill debts and a disagreement over 2009 gas prices.
Moscow raised the stakes in the dispute on Monday, saying it would reduce the flow of gas to the rest of Europe by the amount it says Ukraine is stealing. Kiev has denied the accusation.
Gazprom now demands that Ukraine pay $450 per 1,000 cubic meters, up from $179.50 in 2008.
But the increase would be a major burden for Ukraine's economy, which is heading into its worst recession in a decade. The country is also preparing for a presidential election that could turn such an increase into a political issue.
Ukraine imported about 47.9 billion cubic meters in 2008 at a cost of $8.61 billion, but Kiev says the contracting economy means it will need less gas next year as industrial consumption falls.
During a similar dispute between Ukraine and Russia in 2006, which lasted only three days, several West European countries saw their gas supplies drop by just 30 percent.
From NPR staff and wire reports