by Megan K. Stack
Los Angeles Times 
Fuel delivery to four European countries fell below normal Saturday as Russia’s state gas monopoly withheld natural gas from neighboring Ukraine for the third consecutive day.
Ukraine warned that its gas pipeline system could experience “serious disruptions” if a worsening price dispute isn’t settled in 10 to 15 days, threatening shortfalls across Europe in the heart of winter. Gas flows to Poland, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria, all of which depend on pipelines that cross Ukraine, slumped on Saturday, officials said.
Ukraine said it had stored up enough natural gas reserves to last for months. But experts had warned that the abrupt stoppage of gas to Ukraine could cause pressure to dwindle in the pipeline system, creating delivery problems for the rest of Europe.
Russia’s Gazprom said it increased gas flows bound for the rest of Europe through Belarus and Turkey to counteract any troubles.
The Russia-Ukraine standoff appeared to be worsening as Gazprom and Ukraine bitterly blamed one another for the stalled negotiations and European fuel delivery woes. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday approved Gazprom’s plan to sue Ukraine for failing to keep proper levels of gas moving through its pipelines to the rest of Europe, the company announced.
Ukraine says Russia is at fault for failing to provide enough gas to keep the pipeline system running smoothly.
The European Union called an emergency meeting for Monday to discuss the gas troubles. The bloc has enough reserves on hand to withstand the shortfalls for now.
About one-fifth of the gas delivered to the European Union arrives via pipelines cutting through Ukraine.
Talks between Ukraine and Russia have been stalled since negotiations collapsed on New Year’s Eve. The two countries remain at odds over the price Ukraine should pay for natural gas in 2009, and the amount of transit fees Gazprom will pay Ukraine for allowing Russian gas to pass through the country en route to other European customers.
In recent years, feuds over natural gas have become a steady and acrimonious fixture of Russian-Ukrainian relations. In 2006, a similar dispute drove Russia to cut off gas to Ukraine, causing fuel interruptions in other parts of Europe and raising sharp concerns about Moscow’s reliability as a provider of energy. Still, Europe remains heavily dependent upon Russian fuel.
On Saturday, Gazprom accused Ukraine of siphoning off 35 million cubic meters of gas a day bound for Europe.
“It’s not us but Ukraine that uses blackmail toward Russia and Europe,” the vice chairman of Gazprom’s board of directors, Alexander Medvedev, told reporters in the Czech Republic, Interfax reported.
Ukraine’s pro-Western president has enraged Russia by pushing for NATO membership for the former Soviet state.