But Alexander Medvedev, the vice-president of Gazprom, blamed Ukraine for the cut in gas deliveries to Europe.

"Last night Ukraine shut down all gas pipelines to Europe. This morning no pipeline is bringing gas through Ukraine to Europe," he said.

Medvedev said he would fly to Brussels with Alexei Mille, Gazprom's chief executive, for talks with European officials on Thursday.

"They will be high-level talks with the European Commission and European parliament," he said.

'Aggravation'

Sergei Kupriyanov, a Gazprom spokesman, said on Wednesday that Naftogaz, had "over the last 24 hours, under the pretext of the consumption of gas for technical needs ... stolen another 21 million cubic metres of gas intended for supplies to Europe".

Ukraine denies the claims.

On Tuesday, Medvedev said Kiev had "aggravated" the situation by shutting down three or four export pipelines overnight.

He said the company was a "hostage of irresponsible behaviour".

"Gas supplies to selected wholesale buyers may fall, but we will do our best to spare households, hospitals and schools"

Lubomir Jahnatek
Slovakian finance minister

Neave Barker, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Moscow, said it was difficult to determine who was telling the truth to the European Union, who are watching their gas supplies dwindle.

"This is political and economic tit-for-tat. It appears as if any last-minute attempts to broker a deal between Kiev and Moscow have failed," he said.

On Wednesday, 10 European countries reported a complete halt in Russian supplies, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia.

Austria is a distribution hub which directs Russian gas to Germany and central Europe.

Seventeen countries have now complained of receiving lower supplies of Russian gas due to the crisis.

EU observation

The EU called for the restoration of gas supplies and an end to the Moscow-Kiev row in a joint-statement on Tuesday.

"The Czech EU presidency and the European Commission demand that gas supplies be restored immediately to the EU and that the two parties resume negotiations at once."

Yushchenko, left, slammed Russia for the cut in gas supplies to Europe [AFP]
The European Commission on Wednesday also proposed sending observers to Ukraine to measure the flow of natural gas arriving from Russia, a spokesman said.

European industrial and agricultural users, which consume thousands of cubic metres per hour, will be primarily effected by the cut.

The Croatian finance ministry said reductions had already started for big industrial consumers.

Lubomir Jahnatek, the Slovakian finance minister said on Tuesday: "Gas supplies to selected wholesale buyers may fall, but we will do our best to spare households, hospitals and schools."

Gazprom stopped deliveries to Ukraine after failing to resolve a $2bn debt dispute over gas-related payments Russia says Ukraine owes, and proposed increases to future fuel tariffs.

Russia then accused its former Soviet neighbour of stealing about 15 per cent of the gas it ships across Ukraine to European states. Naftogaz denies siphoning off gas.

EU countries, experiencing sub-zero temperatures in some areas, receive about 80 per cent of Russian gas exports through Ukraine.