Press Conferences

11. 1. 2009 14:12

Special Press Conference on Expected Renewal of Supplies of Russian Natural Gas through Ukraine to EU Countries on 11 January 2009

Jiří F. Potužník, press secretary for the Czech Republic's presidency of the EU Council: Ladies and gentlemen, good day and welcome to this special press conference on the expected renewal of supplies of Russian natural gas through Ukraine to EU countries, and especially, to the reaching of an agreement. I would like to welcome to the podium Czech Prime Minister and Chairman of the EU Council Mirek Topolánek, Industry and Trade Minister Martin Říman and Special Ambassador-at-Large for Energy Security Václav Bartuška. I'd like to ask Mr. Prime Minister first, and then Mr. Minister for a brief introduction.
Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: I think that following certain interpretations in the media, this situation deserves the facts to be heard from an area where the EU is suffering, and which it noted the first week of the new year. At the very beginning of the introduction, I would like to say that we began monitoring this situation as early as last fall and especially in December, and Václav Bartuška, whom I would like to publicly thank, has since the end of December really been in personal contact with all the players and has estimated and monitored the situation very well. We have tried to be active for the entire time since the beginning of the year, to maintain contact with all partners, and to coerce them into talks so that the situation would not escalate, and so that, as the Czech presidency is responsible for the action, we could at least create the groundwork for the resumption of supplies of transit natural gas to the EU. I do not want to describe in detail the problems of individual countries, but that - at an extraordinary meeting, the government in Slovakia will decide on a restart of the recently-stopped nuclear power station at Jaslovské Bohunice, the problems in Bulgaria, the Balkans and other countries – these lead me to believe that the situation is serious and that it deserves an absolutely active approach by the Czech presidency. What I would like to raise further is that from the beginning we have communicated with the European Commission, and of course with all the players; I do not want to list the dozens of phonecalls with all the important personalities of the EU, whom, at various phases personally intervened in the problem. We have not intervened in the Russia-Ukraine dispute until the moment when the gas was really stopped, but nevertheless on 2 January we met in Prague with the Ukrainian side, where representatives of all three of the main players - which means representatives of President Yuschenko, Prime Minister Tymošenko and Naftogaz – and at that meeting on 2 January we created a certain staging ground for further solutions. 3. On 3 January, representatives of Gazprom were in Prague, with whom talks took place at the same time, and this was new at the time, when nobody still had any idea what the problem would like and what its dimensions would be. Minister Říman's mission was immediately organised on the 5th and 6th. The chairmen of the Council of Ministers' energy ministers went to Kiev and then to Berlin, and actually ended in Brussels, which identified the problem on the spot, again spoke with all the players and practically coerced representatives of both companies to come to Brussels and begin meeting on a proposal which, in my opinion, started to have clear outlines: A special, independent, international monitoring team or mission which would make the the entire political solution clear in such a way that after the crisis of confidence, a situation would emerge that would enable the frozen talks to become unblocked. I don't want to go into details about how many agreements were proposed, who signed what and who didn't sign, but it really became apparent very quickly that Russia was not willing to sign the proposal from the Ukrainian side and vice versa. This was the main reason why, on the Wednesday of the Czech presidency's start, on 7 January, we spoke in detail about this with President Barroso. On the 8th in Bratislava, on the occasion of the opening of the euro, with President Barroso present, I had the opportunity at the V4 to discuss in great detail with the most-affected countries such as Slovakia, with colleagues who came to the event so that on Thursday or Friday we could decide on our mission to Kiev, when, believe me, we really didn't plan for it to last 2 1/2 days - some of us didn't even pack razors or toothbrushes. We had to resolve it on the spot with the clear goal of coercing and keeping both parties under pressure this time to ratify an agreement that they could not refuse. It was an agreement that was prepared jointly by the European Commision with the Czech presidency. The first talks in Kiev were quite complicated. Even before we flew out, I spoke with both President Yuschenko and with Prime Minister Tymoshenko, with Putin, and during three days of phonecalls I must say that very operatively– and this was shown in the talks in Moscow - that just as the Ukrainians, the Russians were interested in an agreement and only needed the unblocking impulse. We had to fly from Kiev to Moscow, where we actually reworked and gave form to the fifth proposal, which we presented to the Russian side in meetings. I don't think a more representative grouping exists in the Russian Federation; Prime Minister Putin, Deputy Prime Minister Sechin - essentially the person who runs Russia's energy – Energy Minister Shmatko, Gazprom's number one, Miller, and Deputy Foreign Minister Denisov. After 5 1/2 hours we actually arrived at signatures by Deputy Prime Minister Sechin and Gazprom chief Miller of a document that precisely reflected the rather verbal rhetorical exercises of all the players. That is that both countries would enable a monitoring mission on the territory of both countries at all the measurement points defined precisely in that agreement, to the extent that enables the monitoring of the flow of natural gas throughout the entire transit system, including the transit of connected tanks. The makeup of these teams was defined down to the details of individual companies working and operating on European territory. How and where those evaluated would be sent was defined, or the data was to be completed and a solution in two steps was of course prepared. Firstly, the unblocking and immediate starting of the placement of individual teams, and secondly, the technical terms under whose baton both countries would enable the actual implementation of the transit. It was evident that unless we flew back to Kiev that the agreement would not have general value, and for that reason we flew to Kiev that night, where, after several hours of talks we came to an agreement, and Deputy Prime Minister Nemyrya and a Naftogaz representative signed for the Ukrainian side. Today I have information from Brussels that Commissioner Piebalgs has signed, and now an agreement has been distributed to the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Both players are waiting for it, and we expect it to be fulfilled. At the same time, our political role, the role of the country holding the presidency at this moment ends, and the European Commission and its monitoring mission takes over this role. It should enable the unblocking of the natural gas supplies. This martyrdom we went through, where every day all day we tried to reach agreement led at least to the fact that both sides were being pressured to declare that they did not intend to block natural gas supplies, regardless of whether they were shipments from Russia or transit across Ukraine. Of course they had to declare a willingness to come to an agreement, and in this sense I have real hope that this step will mean the unblocking of this problem and a start to deliveries, which, as long as team were in place, then there was a promise from the Russian side to immediately begin supplies of gas for transit. It is estimated that it will take 36 hours for it to get to the EU's border. Our role, the role of the country holding the presidency, was actually a communication and mediating role, and now I hope more standard mechanisms will work, which the Czech presidency of course cannot achieve. That's absolutely everything from me at the introduction. I think the start to this year is a certain kind of evidence that not only are we well-prepared, but as I said in advance, the Czechs will be able to react flexibly to problems that come up ad hoc. The fact that two problems came in the first days of this year and that we of course have shown that we are able to represent the European Union on this problem. That gives me clear hope that we will manage the presidency in such a way, as we have said, successfully, and that we will be a benefit for other EU countries we represent today both inwards and outwards as well. Jirí F. Potužník, press spokesman for the Czech Republic's presidency of the EU Council: Thank you for the introduction and I would like to ask Mr. Minister Říman to briefly add his comments. Martin Říman, minister of industry and trade: Good day for the first time in this very nice hall. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to emphasise one thing, maybe, and it is that operation GAS has definitively and fully begun the Czech presidency. I'm not completely sure if they're fully aware in the Czech Republic that during the last seven days we are really the anabasis, and that we have navigated it as leaders of the EU and not as leaders of the Czech Republic. If we were not the country holding the EU presidency, we would not have gone three times to Kiev with Václav Bartuška, once to Moscow, several times to Brussels and even to Berlin. We did not represent the Czech Republic. We represented the EU there, and that is how we spoke. So that is a thing that I think illustrates very well the change that occurred on New Year's Eve. 1. That is one moment. The second moment is that of course the work does not end, as the prime minister said. Not only must the agreement that was reached be fulfilled, which is more or less a technical matter in the competence of the European Commission and other signatories, Russia and Ukraine. If all goes well - and even if there will still be some difficulties - we must make clear conclusions from what has occurred, so we can minimize the possible risks of repeating it. What has happened has never occurred in four decades of supplying Russian natural gas to Europe; of course, it has not been said anywhere that what has occurred will not be repeated. This means that we have called the first extraordinary meeting of our presidency, of the Energy Council, where we will inform all 27 Member States' ministers about the course of the entire week, the entire action, the entire operation and we will propose the speeding up of certain steps within the framework of EU legislation and EU projects in such a way as to strengthen the degree of energy security. This is something that until now has been talked about a lot, and now we are in a situation where we simply must find such mechanisms - whether they are legal or real and technical – that if necessary will make it possible so that individual countries can be in solidarity with one another. We acted in such a way when after several days of technical checks we managed to find a mechanism to help Slovakia. Jirí F. Potužník, press spokesman for the Czech Republic's presidency of the EU Council: Thank you. Now we have a limited time for your comments, unless Mr. Ambassador Bartuška would like to add something. Václav Bartuška, Czech Republic ambassador-at-large for energy: I would just like to thank my colleagues in Prague and at all embassies worldwide, because this has been an unbelievable test of what we know how to do and what we do not know how to do, that we have managed it and it was, overall I think, a burden for all of us. Now I come to work with my toothbrush and toothpaste and with my passport, because I do not know where I will sleep each night. I have learned. Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. Jirí F. Potužník, press spokesman for the Czech Republic's presidency of the EU Council: Thank you for the introductions, and now a limited time for your questions, please. Jiří Dlabaja, TV Nova: Good day. I am interested in one thing, something on paper, which is when this gas will flow, and whether you already know the deadline – will it will be on Monday or on Tuesday? The second is a more current issue: Have you met with the KDU-ČSL? Everybody will be interested to find out how that went. Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: I will repeat what I have said, and I'm sorry that you didn't catch it. I will use the same words, because I have already said it. The gas will flow only after the Russian Federation releases it and is willing to release it after it receives a signed agreement on when the European Commission's monitoring teams will be in place at all the points defined in this agreement. You ask me if I can specifically speak about specific terms. I cannot tell you the hour or date, and it has not been the goal of the Czech presidency and it has not been in our competency to work out technical details; that is really up to the signatories of the agreement, and in this case it is the European Commission, the Russian Federation as represented by Gazprom and the Ukrainian administration as represented by Deputy Prime Minister Nemyrya and representatives of Naftogaz. That is all I will say. If everything goes well - and you must hear this conditional, because we cannot influence it - then the teams can be in place this afternoon, but for me to tell you a date the first gas will break the pressure barrier at Veľké Kapušany and enters Slovak territory, I'm not such that much of a wise man. Martin Říman, Industry and Trade Minister: I must add one thing. We have sat with Prime Minister Putin for five hours in practically one room. Prime Minister Putin said clearly that at the moment that these two conditions will be fulfilled, which are that everyone signs, which has happened, and that all the international observers will be in their positions, which will take place immediately after receiving the signed agreements by fax, then the gas will flow. I cannot imagine that Prime Minister Putin would ruin an entire Saturday to break his word. Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: On the second question, I will not say anything about it at this time. The talks are still underway even with out me, and I must say that for me it is hard to imagine - I'd say it's unimaginable - that in the context of the problems we are working on, changes in some of the coalition parties and some not, in recent days have shown that the problem from last year of personnel changes in the government are priority number 28 and not problem number 1. Of course I will tell you all the necessary things, probably at a press conference after the government, which at this point is rather signaling, that I do not see this problem as being so acute as to harm me. I have said that these changes will take place and today I see them really as not being that important as in October or November after losing the elections. What I would like to signal is that it is evident, but it does not mean at this time anything about the solution I will decide upon in the end. Jirí F. Potužník, press spokesman for the Czech Republic's presidency of the EU Council: Next question please. Zachovalová, DPA: What do you have to say about yesterday's decision by Slovakia to restart its electric power plant, which is contrary to its accession agreement? Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: I am in contact with Robert Fico probably more than any European politician, and just yesterday during the talks, whether in Moscow or at night in Kiev, I spoke with him three times. He informed me about this step, and at the given moment, just after stopping the block at Jaslovská 1, I take it rather as a demonstration of preparedness to resolve a problem the EU does not know how to solve for Slovakia, which is threatened by blackouts in the event of further non-supply of gas, because it produces electricity from gas as well, and is getting into serious problems. In this sense, I take it more as the Slovak government's ability to take action than as a real threat. But it can be seen that it is a solution - and Martin Říman has indicated this here – it must have a European dimension. The fact that we have come with energy security as a priority which we had to push for a year to get into the agenda, to get it to the level of discussions about the southern corridor and the summit where we pushed for certain materials which will be dicsussed during this half year - to allocate money to connect the systems, to allocate EUR 5 billion for infrastructure projects of this type, that shows good preparation during the last year and a half, because we are solving this problem at five minutes after midnight, and not at five minutes to midnight. Jirí F. Potužník, press spokesman for the Czech Republic's presidency of the EU Council: Next question please. Jana Mlčochová, Reuters: Good day, Jana Mlčochová, Reuters. I wanted to ask Mr. Prime Minister whether he could describe in some way the situation that Europe is in now, especially in eastern Europe and the Balkans after the gas has not flowed for a longer time, because there are some reports that people have died or possibly have frozen. Do you know how it is and where it is worst? Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: As far as I know, in countries throughout Europe there may be homeless people dying as a result of the freeze; they don't have a place to live. I have noted such cases. Individual economies and countries are getting into serious problems. I do not want to describe Slovakia's problem, because Slovakia is 100 % dependent on supplies of natural gas through Ukraine. It has gotten into serious problems because of its tanks and a lack of gas for the transfer of this gas collected in tanks in the eastern part of the republic. Supplies for major companies have actually started to collapse, and roughly 1,000 companies have been influenced by this situation. In Bulgaria, they are able more or less to draw from their storage facilities, which have enough to draw roughly one-third of their domestic consumption for around 90 days, which at the same time means a serious crippling of its economy. Countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and others in the Balkans are getting into very serious and, I would say, irresolvable problems. Countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany and others at this time do not have an acute problem, because alternative supplies work and supplies from natural gas storage facilities are working, and so for a number of weeks they may not actually be a threat on the level of the economy, but later the problem would become similar to in those other countries. This means that we have very detailed information on the situation in each country. We are in permanent contact with all the leaders, from Stanišev to Fico, and just yesterday I spoke three times with President Kačinski. This communication was immediate and very important, and of course we had to reach an agreement with the four bordering countries on whose territory the output will be measured at the same time – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, where the European Commission is not authorised to sign anything and must agree with them that international monitoring teams will be placed at measurement points on their territory, where supplies are actually received from Ukraine. I can assure you that this has been very operative, but also a very sophisticated operation and in this regard I would like to thank my colleages in Europe. I have had a regular and permanent information pipeline which has enabled me to achieve in these talks what we managed to do in the end. Jirí F. Potužník, press spokesman for the Czech Republic's presidency of the EU Council: Mr. Minister or Mr. Ambassador, would you like to add anything to the answer? No. Then the next question. Ivan Lukáš, Czech Television: Good day. I would like to ask about the agenda for tomorrow's government meeting. You should again discuss the problem of foreign military missions. The question is: Will you meet with Jiří Paroubek about this today, and if so, when? Thank you. Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: I have refrained from meetings on this new proposal for the missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and other destinations for one week for just this reason - to create space for possible talks, even I have had the feeling that it is rather formal, because this proposal, which has been prepared by the defence ministry precisely reflects the Social Democrats' requests from the first proposal. This first proposal was discussed in the Chamber of Deputies after being approved in the Senate and because for these meetings where soldiers' stay on foreign territory must be agreed to by both chambers, the Chamber of Deputies could not immediately carry this out for the first proposal, and for this reason my clearly articulated and publicly presented promise existed, that that it would be approached in this regard and in this regard the missions would function. This means the maximum average number of soldiers in missions with the exception of Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan is 480, an end to the Enduring Freedom mission at the end of 2009, a greater number of police members, who will be placed in Afghanistan for training local police, plus a fourth condition, which I do not immediately recall. This all reflects the new proposal and I do not see any reason, after the Social Democrats requests have been fulfilled, why they would not vote for it. Nevertheless, despite this I have made this attempt, and a public apology, that I do not have any information after returning at around 4 o'clock this morning from Ukraine on whether such talks will take place. I have called on them publicly and I have tried to organise such talks. If they do not take place, the government will discuss these materials in the standard way. They will progress to both chambers of parliament and will be discussed on the floor of the parliament. There is no other option. I cannot in any way imagine that we could get our special forces out of these mountain areas earlier than April, so if the mission ends in February, I really have no idea who will take responsibility for these soldiers' stay in this place and who would resolve possible problems. I have spoken with President Putin. We had time enough for a personal conversation – around 3 hours – so we discussed Afghanistan and I think that Vladimír Vladimirovič Putin would advise Jiří Paroubek to approve these missions. Jirí F. Potužník, press spokesman for the Czech Republic's presidency of the EU Council: Last question. We are in the last minute. Briefly, please. Pavel Chalupa, RTA Czech Media: Mr. Prime Minister, Prime Minister Putin has announced that if the control points show that Ukraine is taking gas without authorization, Gazprom would again stop supplies. And the second question is that Hungary's MOL has already filed a lawsuit against Naftogaz for damages worth several million dollars. How will the demands of these countries, which have been harmed by the lack of gas deliveries potentially be resolved, and will the Czech presidency resolve this in some way? Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: I will answer the first question. At press conferences that we had twice or three times in Ukraine and at least once in Moscow, both sides of course mutually blamed each other, and we had to show great patience to go through these rhetorical exercises. They blame each other mutually and declare to the other that they will not be the obstacle to deliveries. I cannot imagine that in a situation where Ukraine is under international supervision that any such loss would occur, and must say that Ukraine has only one fear, and that has hopefully been resolved, with technical gas, which is necessary every day to operate the entire system, which is roughly 21 million cubic meters of gas. The Russian side has declared it will supply it, and the Ukrainian side has declared it will pay for it. All the technical problems will now not be resolved by the Czech presidency. We have neither the tools nor the competencies to do so. As far as legal, arbitration or other hearings, you cannot be serious that the Czech Republic would resolve something that belongs to the courts or possibly to arbitration hearings. All the resulting problems, and this means possible debts, the price of supplies to Ukraine, the price for supplies for transit, the price of supplies of technical gas is a clearly bilateral issue between Ukraine and Russia, and arbitration disputes will of course be resolved by arbitration organs. We have nothing to do with it. Jirí F. Potužník, press spokesman for the Czech Republic's presidency of the EU Council: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention. I am ending this special press conference on issues of energy security. Thank you. Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: Have a good day and goodbye.

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