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Europeans get their gas for the time being

RUSSIAN natural gas is again flowing through Ukrainian pipelines into Europe, but the resolution of the two nations' energy war looks more like a cease-fire than peace.

The two-week gas cutoff left many in Europe bitter and eager to sever the energy lifeline that leads to the gas fields of Siberia. And there's no real guarantee against renewed hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, two former Soviet neighbors with sharply contrasting views of the future.

Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko proclaimed her country the winner in the two-week gas dispute with Russia even though higher gas prices are going to badly hurt the Ukrainian economy.

But with the ink barely dried on the agreement, Alexei Miller, the chief of Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom suggested Ukraine might not be trusted to pay the higher prices it has promised. And Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's office has already criticized the deal crafted by Tymoshenko, his political rival.

Gazprom began pumping gas into Ukraine on Tuesday morning. Hours later, gas reached Slovakia and deliveries were reported in Hungary, Bulgaria and Moldova - some of the nations hardest hit in the dispute. Supplies returned to Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Croatia.

The 27-nation European Union gets about a quarter of its gas from Russia.

"It was utterly unacceptable that European gas consumers were held hostage to this dispute between Russia and Ukraine," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said. "We must not allow ourselves to be placed in this position in future."

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said his country plans to renew its contract with Gazprom next year because Russian gas supplies about 40 percent of his country's needs. "But we are aiming to find ways to diversify our supply resources," he said.

Many in eastern Europe won't quickly forget the first weeks of this year.

Slovakia had to ration gas, favoring homes and hospitals, and forcing about 1,000 companies to halt or limit production. Impoverished Moldova switched to heating oil for power plants, and people burnt wood to stay warm.

Serbia and Bosnia, at odds for years, came together as Serbia shared some of its own precious gas supplies to help Bosnia cope.


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