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Ukraine could steal Olympic Flame -- paper

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MOSCOW, January 25 (RIA Novosti) -Ukraine's tapping of Russian natural gas has raised concerns not only among customers in western Europe, but also among the organizers of the Olympic Winter Games in Italy, a popular Russian daily reported Wednesday.

Izvestia cited Italian energy giant ENI's sources as saying that Italy would face a shortfall in gas, including for the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, if deliveries from Russia, Italy's main supplier of natural gas, were not restored in full. The paper said the Italians were worried about whether or not there would be enough gas for the Olympic flame, a symbol for any Olympic Games.

According to the daily, the four-meter-high flame requires 8,000 cubic meters of gas per hour, with an estimated total consumption of 2.8 million cu m during the games, which will run from February 10 through 26. The Organizing Committee of the XX Olympic Winter Games and its contractor Italgas said the shortfall in gas supplies should not affect the Olympic Flame. However, the paper said they did not rule out shutting it down after the opening ceremony if the situation deteriorated and the country's authorities were forced to sacrifice the sacred flame for domestic needs.

Russia has accused Ukraine of siphoning off Russian gas transported to Europe via Ukraine. Russian energy giant Gazprom said Ukraine was not transporting to Europe all the gas that Gazprom is trying to send through the country's pipelines to its customers.

Russia and Ukraine were involved in a bitter pricing dispute over gas delivered by Gazprom, which cut off supplies to Russia's neighbor on January 1 after negotiations on the issue failed. The dispute was officially settled with a new price agreement on January 4.

However, Ukraine has reportedly resumed siphoning off Russia's export gas due to the extreme cold that hit Europe since last week. Gazprom said a fall in gas arriving at European destinations via three pipelines through Ukrainian territory had been registered.

Images (from the Olympic Games Torino 2006 information web site)

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