Russia has halted all gas deliveries to Western Europe

Moscow/Kiev - Russia on Wednesday halted all supplies of gas to Europe via Ukraine in a critical escalation of a week-long energy dispute between Moscow and Kiev, Russian news agencies quoted officials from both sides as saying.

A spokesman for Ukraine's state-run energy company Naftogaz Ukrainy, Valentyn Zemlyanskiy, said Gazprom shut the taps at 7:44 Kiev time (0544 GMT).

Gazprom Deputy Chairman Alexander Medvedev confirmed the stop to gas shipments from Berlin, where he was meeting with European energy heads in a lobbying push by the Russian gas giant.

The decision to fully cut supplies came after Ukraine shut down the last of four major pumping stations on the Ukraine-EU border, Medvedev said.

The cut comes after sharp drops Tuesday in the volume of gas that reached Central and Eastern Europe as a vicious cold snap hit the continent.

Each side blamed the other for the shortfalls and Gazprom said it would increase gas deliveries to Europe through Belarus and its Blue-Stream pipeline under the Black Sea.

But 80 per cent of Russian gas shipments to Europe travel via Ukrainian pipeline and alternative routes have a limited capacity to stabilize supplies.

Already Gazprom had cut its shipments through Ukraine by two-thirds to just 72 million cubic meters of gas destined for European consumers effectively supplying less than European demands and contracts to thwart what it said was Kiev's theft of on- shipments.

Ukraine in turn closed a pumping station at on its border with Romania cutting the flow of gas to Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia those countries said.

Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller warned in a televised briefing with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that "if Ukraine fully stops delivery of gas to the West, we do not see sense in supplying gas to the border with Ukraine."

At least seven other EU-member states confirmed seeing the pressure fall drastically in their pipelines sparking shortfalls as far downstream as Paris.

The crisis evoked ill memories of a similar dispute in 2006 that pushed the European Union to seek energy security by diversifying away from Russian gas.

Europe is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas deliveries, with Moscow providing EU nations roughly one-quarter of all gas consumed. The European Commission said it was monitoring the situation.

Ukrainian and Russian officials are due to meet in Moscow on Thursday for talks to resolve the commercial dispute, which came to a head at the end of 2008 with the expiration of Russo-Ukrainian contracts for gas shipments. (dpa)