KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine today accepted a deal on the European Union-led monitoring of Russian natural gas transit across its territory, opening the way for restarting Russian gas supplies to a freezing Europe after a four-day halt in shipments.
Russia wanted the written deal before renewing gas shipments suspended amid a bitter contract dispute with Ukraine — a move seen by many as another attempt by Moscow to reassert its clout over Western-leaning former Soviet republics.
Russia said it needs EU monitors deployed to Ukraine to prevent it from stealing Russian gas intended for Europe. Ukraine hotly denied the claims.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, shuttled between Moscow and Kiev on Saturday to mediate the deal. He finally persuaded Ukraine to accept the monitoring pact during marathon talks that dragged past midnight.
"Nothing prevents Russia now from resuming gas supplies," Topolanek said after Ukrainian officials endorsed the deal.
"We once again have shown our goodwill," said Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, adding that the monitoring mission would uphold her nation's image as an "honest transit country."
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised that Moscow would resume gas shipments once the deal is signed and monitors are in place. Putin didn't say how quickly Russia may restart supplies, but Bohdan Sokolovsky, an energy adviser to the Ukrainian president, said it would take Russia about 30 hours to begin gas deliveries and it would then take an additional 36 hours for Ukraine to move gas to its western border.
Russia supplies about a quarter of the EU's natural gas, most of it shipped through Ukraine, and the disruption has come during a harsh winter. At least 11 people froze to death last week in Europe, including 10 in Poland, where temperatures sank to minus 13 degrees.