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Crisis chills Europe's ties to Russia

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The European Union has now dropped its hands-off approach to resolving Russia's acrimonious, week-old gas war with Ukraine. After a meeting with officials of Russia's Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftohaz in Brussels Thursday, European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger told journalists that Europe expects Moscow and Kiev to settle their dispute or suffer severe consequences. "The immediate problem is for those who have lost their gas supplies," he said. "But in the medium and long term, the problem is with those who are found not to be reliable suppliers. ... That means of course that customers will have to think about alternatives."

Until this week, the EU tried to maintain a "neutral" position on the central dispute between Moscow and Kiev. But with Austria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and EU-suitor states Croatia and Bosnia faced with cut-offs, this has not been possible. EU monitors are now going to verify gas shipments between Russia and Ukraine, and EU Commission president Manuel Barroso warned both states that further cutoffs would damage relations.

The lack of a common European policy on energy in the face of subzero temperatures and a Russian shut-off is creating a clamor among smaller EU states that feel literally left out in the cold. The EU has no common approach on energy, with each state fending for itself against Moscow. As in 2006, when Moscow threatened to shut off the valves, the EU is in full-crisis rhetoric mode – but pressure is building for more than talk. Bulgaria Wednesday threatened to restart a nuclear reactor whose closure was part of a deal to allow the Balkan state into the EU.

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