By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News European Bureau Chief reporting from Budapest
MOSCOW/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin asked state-run energy giant Gazprom to cease all deliveries of natural gas into Ukraine, destined for Europe, Russian state media reported Wednesday, January 7, despite reports that over a dozen people in Europe already froze to death as temperatures dropped.
Putin's announcement at Orthodox Christmas came as over a dozen European countries already complained that the flow of natural gas from Russia to Europe crossing Ukrainian territory had completely switched off, effecting several European Union nations.
Hungary's government on Wednesday, January 7, instructed further industrial consumers to limit their gas use. The main international airport in Budapest said it has switched to oil for heating following the government's request.
Hungarian News Agency MTI said the airport, owned by Germany's Hochtief AG, was among industrial users whose gas consumption had been limited.
"Heating from Wednesday morning is provided using the airport's strategic oil reserves," Budapest Airport spokesman Domokos Szollar told MTI. The airport has reportedly about 70,000-80,000 litres of oil reserves.
Russia's Gazprom said it was forced to reduce gas deliveries to Europe, because Ukraine was stealing them. Gazprom cut-off supplies to Ukraine on New Years Day because of what it said were unpaid bills of over two billion dollars. Ukraine has so far offered only one and a half billion.
The news came amid concerns among European customers over the impact of the crisis.
With temperatures plummeting to as low as -25°C in eastern Europe, as many as 13 people have died in countries including Poland, Romania and Germany, officials said Wednesday, January 7. Over in England, heating problems reportedly forced school closures.
Due to the escalating Russian-Ukrainian gas pricing dispute, Hungarian parliamentarian Janos Koka urged Hungary's politicians to unanimously support the construction of the European Union-backed Nabucco natural gas pipeline, which would bypass Russia.
"Every month of delay by the European Union prolongs our dependence on the Russian gas monopoly and seriously threatens the safe gas supply for Hungarian households and companies," said Koka, who heads Parliament's Nabucco committee.
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said Tuesday, January 6, that Hungary had two irons in the fire but gave priority to Nabucco.
Nabucco would connect the Caspian and Central Asian gas fields with Europe via Turkey, reducing Europe's dependence on Russian gas supplies. The other "iron" Gyurcsany spoke about is the South Stream pipeline project intended to transport Russian gas under the Black Sea to Europe, bypassing Ukraine.
Ukraine has accused Russia of "blackmail" and some critics have said Moscow is using gas as a political tool to pressure countries such as Ukraine not to move towards the West and membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Moscow has also been upset about reported Ukrainian military support for Georgia during the recent war between Russian and Georgian forces over Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia. Moscow denies the allegations, calling it a "pure commercial dispute."