MOSCOW, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Gazprom should do all it can to meet the natural gas demands of its European customers during a bitter cold wave, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says.
Putin, meeting with Gazprom officials Saturday in Moscow, urged the natural gas provider to meet the requests of foreign countries for higher amounts as Europe shivers through a freeze that has claimed more than 200 lives.
But he said those efforts must remain secondary to satisfying internal demand from members of the Russian Federation.
"I would like to ask you to exert maximum efforts to meet the demands of our foreign partners," Putin said at a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Gazprom Deputy Chairmen Alexander Medvedev and Andrei Kruglov.
"The top priority of the energy generation industry in general and Gazprom in particular is to meet the internal demand in the Russian Federation. This is a top priority."
Putin's exhortation came after Kruglov admitted Gazprom had been unable to deliver extra gas sought by European customers as they coped with arctic conditions due to a Siberian air mass that sent temperatures plummeting to as low as minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit in Central and Eastern Europe.
The European Commission complained last week Russia had reduced gas deliveries to nine European countries, forcing them to tap imported liquefied natural gas from other countries as well as stored volume.
"There were several days when the supplies decreased slightly, by about 10 percent, and on one day there was a reduction of supplies for Poland and Italy," Kruglov told Putin. "But that was a matter of a few days only; otherwise the orders are filled in full."
Kruglov also said Gazprom isn't able to supply European customers more than their contracted amounts of gas to help battle the cold snap.
"Currently we have seen a rise in the requested volumes," he told Putin. "We have an approved schedule of supplies to Western Europe. We are keeping up with the schedule but we will not be able to supply the extra volumes our western European partners are requesting from us. We are only supplying gas in accordance with the contracts."
Particularly hard hit by the cold snap has been Ukraine, where most of the weather-related fatalities have occurred.
Officials told the BBC 101 people died of exposure to the cold last week, most of them homeless and living on the streets. The broadcaster said local governments have had to scramble to cope with the disaster, with resources being stretched to the limit.
Kiev, which is seeking to amend its 2009 long-term contract with Gazprom over price levels, received more than its contractually obligated amount of 135 million cubic meters per day last week, instead taking 150 million to 170 million cubic meters per day, Kruglov told Putin.
That happened despite Ukraine's announced intention to unilaterally reduce the 27 billion cubic meters minimum it had agreed to buy this year through the disputed the contract.
In fact, at the rate of last week's consumption, Ukraine would end up exceeding the 50 billion-cubic-meter upper-end limit of its deal, the Gazprom officials said.
"As long as the amount remains under 50 (billion cubic meters), it would be within the bounds of the contract, while everything in excess of 50 goes beyond the contract they wanted to amend," Putin noted.
He added, "Nevertheless, we must help Ukraine and meet their demand in full."