Russian energy giant Gazprom will resume natural gas transit to Europe via Ukraine once it is sure that international monitors can fully supervise the process, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Monday.

Russia, the EU and Ukraine have signed a protocol to establish an independent commission to monitor the transit of Russian gas via Ukraine to Europe as a way out of the crisis that erupted last week when Russia halted deliveries to Europe, accusing Ukraine of tapping Europe-bound gas en route through the transit country.

"After independent monitors arrive at the sites listed in the document and we make sure they are capable of overseeing the transit of our natural gas, Gazprom will start pumping gas into Ukraine's gas transportation system for transit to European consumers," Putin said during a Cabinet meeting.

International monitors began arriving at gas transit points in both Ukraine and Russia on Sunday.

Russia and the EU signed the monitoring deal on Saturday, joined by Ukraine the following day. Russia objected, however, to Ukraine adding a declaration to the document and declared the agreement invalid as signed.

The European Commission said the addition, in which Ukraine declared that it had paid its debt to Russia and had not stolen Russian gas destined for Europe, did not affect the agreement as signed, but Putin said on Sunday that any additions were unacceptable and Kiev's changes dealt with commercial disputes between Russia and Ukraine rather than the transit of gas to Europe.

On Monday, Ukraine removed its earlier conditions and signed a fresh version of the document, which was signed by the European Commission in Brussels later in the day.

Speaking by telephone to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso earlier on Monday, Putin said the resumption of natural gas transit via Ukraine should be complete and unconditional.

"After the monitoring regime is launched, Gazprom will start pumping gas into Ukraine's gas transportation system for complete and unconditional transit to European consumers," he said.

The European Commission said earlier some 20 countries had been affected by the Russia-Ukraine gas row, especially in the Balkan region, "where the crisis has left tens of thousands of households in the cold and forced schools, hospitals and factories to close."

The gas conflict escalated early this month, when Russia ended shipments to Ukraine after talks on debt and a gas price for 2009 broke down, leading to a complete break in Russian gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine. The country transits around 80% of Russia's Europe-bound gas.

A gas pricing row between the former Soviet neighbors in 2006 also led to disruptions in shipments to some European consumers, and the latest spat has reawakened concerns about the reliability of Russia as a supplier.

RIA Novosti


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