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Ukraine crisis: Slovakia says Russian gas supply cut in half (+video)

Russian gas supplies to Slovakia dropped by 50 percent in the past day, according to Slovakia's government. The report has raised concerns over a potential disruption of gas flows to Europe as winter approaches. Already, Ukraine is preparing for a winter without crucial heating gas, as it tries to negotiate a temporary deal with Russia and the EU.

Slovakia says it has seen a 50 percent drop in Russian gas supplies in the past day.

Prime Minister Robert Fico says the national gas company, SPP, wouldn't restrict gas supplies domestically. He told reporters Wednesday the government would hold a crisis meeting if the trend continues, adding the Russians blame technical problems.

"The Russian side talks about technical problems, about the necessity of filling up storage for the winter season," Mr. Fico said, according to Reuters. "I have used this expression and I will use it again: gas has become a tool in a political fight."

Russia's state-owned gas company Gazprom has not yet commented on the reported drop.

Slovakia, Poland and other East European countries have reported similar drops in Russian gas flows in recent weeks. So far, they have proved temporary.

Slovakia, which is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas, was among the nations hit hardest by Russia's 2009 cutoff of gas travelling through Ukraine to Europe. Now, it can get supplies from the West if needed.

Slovakia also delivers gas back to Ukraine and Fico said his country is ready to meet its commitments.

Concerns about another gas disruption have sent energy prices upward in Europe. Central European spot gas markets rose to over $31.52 per megawatt-hours, according to Reuters. That's their highest levels since the Ukraine crisis broke out in February/March.

Late last week, Russia, Ukraine, and the EU appeared close to a deal to resume gas supplies to Ukraine, which have been cut off since June. Those talks are expected to continue this week, although analysts are skeptical the three sides will reach any longterm agreement. 

"There is no final compromise yet," Andriy Kobolyev, chief executive of Ukraine's state-owned gas company Naftogaz said in an interview Monday, according to a press release from the company. "There is only a proposal of the EU Commission for a solution, which needs to be discussed and approved by the governments of both countries."

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Meanwhile, Ukraine is preparing for the possibility of a winter without the crucial heating fuel. Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in early September that Ukraine had some 16.7 billion cubic meters of gas in storage, but the country will need approximately double that to survive the winter, and without Russian gas it would be left to rely on already minimal supplies from Europe.

Poland, Hungary and some other European countries have been selling gas, originally imported from Russia, back to Ukraine, but Moscow disapproves of the practice. Recently, some of these countries have had to stop supplying Ukraine with gas as they build their own reserves ahead of the winter and amid reports that Russia is tightening controls.

Relying on coal will also be more difficult this year. With much of Ukraine's industrial, coal-mining east ravaged by war with Russian-backed separatists, Kiev has had to resort to imports from countries as far away as South Africa.

The Ukrainian government has said it would cut energy supplies to industry by 30 percent before reducing supplies to the civilian population. That decision would likely send the Ukrainian economy, which could shrink by up to 10 percent this year, spiraling downward even faster.

The proposed stopgap deal on gas supplies between Ukraine and Russia would last only until early spring, supplying Kiev with a much-needed 5 billion cubic meters in exchange for payments of $3.1 billion by the end of the year.

But Ukrainian officials have protested the proposed price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, and Prodan has said he would stick by his stance that Ukraine should pay only $268.

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