Russia and Ukraine’s annual Christmas gas spat this year reached new heights with Russian company Gazprom shutting off gas supplies to the Ukraine and some Eastern European countries — causing industry in Bulgaria and Slovakia to halt and many more people to freeze. Yesterday they signed a deal to get the gas running again, but it will take three days for the gas to reach Bulgaria and some pundits say this is just a bandaid solution for a bigger problem. Here’s what the world’s media are saying:

Russia and Ukraine sign deal to end gas crisis Russia and Ukraine today signed a deal for the resumption of Russian gas supplies to Europe, where hundreds of thousands of homes have been without power for a week in the depths of winter. The transit deal, also signed by the European Union, should ensure that Russia resumes sending gas by 0800 GMT tomorrow, and supplies start to flow across European borders about 36 hours later, on Wednesday night. “The document has been finally signed,” Alexander Medvedev, deputy chief executive of Gazprom, Russia’s state gas export monopoly, told a news conference in Brussels. — Times Online

The EU’s fragile energy lifeline The disruption of gas shipments through the Ukrainian pipeline network has highlighted the fragility of the EU’s long energy lifeline from Russia. Tens of thousands of households in eastern and southeastern Europe have been without gas for heating and cooking since Russia stopped the exports last week, while businesses have been forced to reduce production in the face of curtailed supply. Martin Riman, the Czech industry and trade minister, whose country now holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said in a statement that the agreement to insert international monitors at key pipeline checkpoints in Russia and Ukraine had “fulfilled the conditions for a prompt renewal of the flow of gas into the EU.” — International Herald Tribune

The Guardian has provided this comprehensive gas pipe map, to show how Russian gas is connected to so many EU countries:

Russia wins round two of the PR wars Since this New Year’s drama has been going on since 2006, it is no surprise that the Kremlin has learned a thing or two about how to handle the PR effort to sell the Russian story to the international audience. This time around, Moscow began the information offensive well in advance, way before it became clear that it was again on a collision course with Kiev over gas prices. — Moscow Times

Without gas, Bulgarians turn icy towards old ally Even before a resolution to the energy crisis gripping Europe was set back on Sunday, many in this Balkan country were accusing Russia of instigating a new cold war, depriving millions of Europeans of heat and fuel to strike a political blow against the West. Since Russia cut off the flow of natural gas through pipelines in Ukraine last week in a dispute over pricing, many of the 7.3 million inhabitants of Bulgaria have been without heat during a bitter January cold snap. If the dispute is resolved and the taps are reopened by Gazprom, the Russian state-owned fuel company, it could take three days for supplies to reach consumers here, experts said. — New York Times

A Christmas ritual A gas row between Russia and Ukraine has become a Christmas ritual. That may explain why, until this week, the European Union seemed to pay the latest tiff so little heed. Neither side is blameless. Ukraine should be paying higher market prices for its gas; and it should neither have reneged on the gas-transit deal it has with Russia nor pinched gas destined for the EU. But equally Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy giant, should not be engaged in overt political bullying just because the Kremlin wants to punish Ukraine’s political leaders for leaning towards the West. And both countries should do a lot more to eliminate the shady intermediaries that have made the business of gas supply so opaque — and rife with corruption. — The Economist

No winners Gazprom and Ukraine have finally struck a deal to have independent gas monitors in place along the pipeline that channels nearly a quarter of Europe’s supplies through Ukraine. This is of course welcome: the Baltic states in particular have been suffering gas shortages even as temperatures remained firmly below zero degrees Celsius over the weekend, while prices in other parts of Europe threatened to go higher as suppliers dipped into their reserves and sought out alternative sources, such as the spot market. But the fundamental issues of how Ukraine and Gazprom settle gas prices annually and how repetition of this year’s battle might be avoided remained unresolved. — Forbes

War costs Bulgarian business 91 m levs Since the beginning of the gas row between Russia and Ukraine, the Bulgarian business has lost 90,667 million levs — (1euro=1.95levs), sources from the crisis HQ with the Ministry of Economy and Energy told the Standart. Bulgaria’s economy has probably suffered greater losses, because the crisis HQ monitors only 330 companies, some of which have not calculated their losses yet. According to the latest reports of the monitored companies, the gas war costs them 14 million levs a day. — Bulgarian Standard

Applause for the new currency fades  The fact that Slovakia became the first Visegrad 4 country to adopt the euro contributed to Slovak Finance Minister Ján Počiatek’s selection as European Finance Minister of the Year by a British financial magazine, The Banker ; news which undoubtedly shocked more than a few. But now the gas tug-of-war between Ukraine and Russia has somewhat overshadowed both Počiatek’s fame and the significance of the euro-switch. Russia cutting off several European countries from their contracted gas supplies has caused a even bigger headache for some large businesses than the switch to the euro, for which they had been preparing for several months. The gas calamity, by contrast, has caught them unprepared. — The Slovak Spectator

Commercial or political? Up until 7 January, it seemed that the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute was commercial — Ukraine failed to pay its debts and resisted moving toward a “market-based system.” Suddenly, Prime Minister Putin waved the signal to turn off the taps to Europe, sending the message to Brussels that, indeed, the problem was to be solved by the Prime Minister himself, not by Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller. Germany and Italy heeded the warnings of 2006 and have waited the crisis out with their system of reserves. Countries in Europe’s east are faring poorly. — Leopolis

Peter Fray

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