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Ukraine to halt key Russian gas transit to Europe, blames Moscow

(Reuters) - Ukraine said it would suspend the flow of gas through a transit point which it said delivers almost a third of the fuel piped from Russia to Europe through Ukraine, blaming Moscow for the move and saying it would move the flows elsewhere.

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Ukraine has remained a major transit route for Russian gas to Europe even after Moscow's invasion.

GTSOU, which operates Ukraine's gas system, said it would stop shipments via the Sokhranivka route from Wednesday, declaring "force majeure", a clause invoked when a business is hit by something beyond its control.

Gazprom, which has a monopoly on Russian gas exports by pipeline, said it was "technologically impossible" to shift all volumes to the Sudzha interconnection point further west, as GTSOU proposed.

GTSOU CEO Sergiy Makogon told Reuters that Russian occupying forces had started taking gas transiting through Ukraine and sending it to two Russia-backed separatist regions in the country's east. He did not cite evidence.

The company said it could not operate at the Novopskov gas compressor station due to "the interference of the occupying forces in technical processes," adding it could temporarily shift the affected flow to the Sudzha physical interconnection point located in territory controlled by Ukraine.

Ukraine's suspension of Russian natural gas flows through the Sokhranivka route should not have an impact on the domestic Ukrainian market, state energy firm Naftogaz head Yuriy Vitrenko told Reuters.

The state gas company in Moldova, a small nation on Ukraine's western border, said it had not received any notice from GTSOU or Gazprom that supplies would be interrupted.

The Novopskov compressor station in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine has been occupied by Russian forces and separatist fighters since soon after Moscow began what it describes as a "special military operation" in February. 

It is the first compressor in the Ukraine gas transit system in the Luhansk region, the transit route for around 32.6 MMm3d of gas, or a third of the Russian gas which is piped to Europe through Ukraine, GTSOU said.

GTSOU said that in order to fulfil its "transit obligations to European partners in full" it would "temporarily transfer unavailable capacity" to the Sudzha interconnection point.

Gazprom said it had received notification from Ukraine that the country would stop the transit of gas to Europe via the Sokhranivka interconnector from 0700 local time on Wednesday.

The Russian company said it saw no proof of force majeure or obstacles to continuing as before. Gazprom added that it was meeting all obligations to buyers of gas in Europe.

The United States has urged countries to lessen their dependence on Russian energy and has banned Russian oil and other energy imports in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday's announcement does not change the timeline to lessen global dependence on Russian oil "as soon as possible."

Reporting by Susanna Twidale and Pavel Polityuk; additional reporting by Nina Chestney in London, Daphne Psaledakis in Washington and and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Alexander Smith, Cynthia Osterman and Rosalba O'Brien


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