updated 1/3/2006 11:21:57 AM ET 2006-01-03T16:21:57

Russian natural gas surged through Ukraine to countries across Europe on Tuesday, banishing the specter of immediate and prolonged shortages because of Moscow’s price dispute with Kiev.

But relief was tempered by the realization that the continent’s dependence on Russian natural gas means it is vulnerable to future energy crises. About one-quarter of Europe’s gas comes from Russia — 80 percent of that via Ukraine — and the standoff raised fears of serious gas shortages during a cold winter.

European officials sought to dispel anxieties left after some countries saw gas supplies from Russia transiting Ukraine cut by as much as 50 percent — a result of Moscow’s decision to halt deliveries to Kiev — before Russia pumped extra gas and deliveries returned to normal.

European Union spokesman Johannes Laitenberger suggested the standoff between Ukraine and Russia was little more than a business disagreement, describing it as “first and foremost a dispute between a gas supplier and (a) transit operator.”

“There is no immediate crisis of supply in the European Union,” he said in Brussels.

But EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs touched on the Europe-wide insecurity left by a day of energy fears.

“The situation has shown how vulnerable the Union is to shortages of gas supply,” he said.

He said a Wednesday meeting of representatives of the 25 EU member states and the gas industry would discuss how they would react to the current crisis and deal with future threats to Europe’s gas supply.

“We should be always prepared,” he said. “We should be able to supply our citizens with energy resources.”

Both Russia and Ukraine showed interest Tuesday in resolving their standoff, which led to Monday’s Europe-wide shortages, Russian accusations that Ukraine was at fault for stealing Europe-bound gas and Ukrainian denials. OAO Gazprom, Russia’s state-run natural gas monopoly, said talks were planned with Ukrainian officials later in the day aimed at resolving the dispute.

Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Serbia — where officials contemplated gas rationing after a 50-percent drop in deliveries — were all reporting normal flows by Tuesday.

Moldova’s fuel crisis also showed signs of easing after its president said that Turkmenistan had offered to ship his country natural gas to compensate for a Russian cutoff — again over a price dispute.

Before being disconnected Sunday, the former Soviet republic drew all of its natural gas from Russia.

While expressing the relief common to all European countries affected that the crisis was over — for now — Milos Tomic, general manager of Serbia’s Srbijagas distributor voiced shared worries about the future, saying: “I cannot guarantee that gas deliveries will be normal in the coming days.”

In Italy, the dispute rekindled a debate over the use of nuclear power with Industry Minister Claudio telling the daily Corriere della Sera that without that alternative, “we can’t ... be safe from energy emergencies.”

And Poland, whose energy dependency on Russia is a legacy of its membership in the former Soviet bloc, launched an urgent search for new suppliers of natural gas in the wake of the temporary cutbacks.

“I’ve instructed the economy minister to urgently prepare investment decisions allowing us to diversify gas supplies,” Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz told reporters.

Even with full deliveries restored, Europe’s gas scare reawakened fears over Russia’s reliability and potential for belligerence — criticism that comes as the country assumes the chairmanship of the Group of Eight, a position it wants to use to boost its international prestige.

“Ukraine is being punished for its decision to become a European, fully democratic country,” wrote The Czech Republic’s daily “Lidove Noviny.”

Criticizing what it said was past European “obedience” to Russia, Italy’s “Il Messagero” said, “it would be shortsighted and dangerous if Europe would continue to act this way considering the events of present days.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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