The Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod or “Brotherhood” natural gas pipeline in the Poltava region of central Ukraine has gone up in flames.
It is the largest consumer gas pipeline in Europe supplying gas to the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Hungary and countries in the Balkans. The pipeline stretches 2,800 miles from Siberia’s Urengoy gas field through Ukraine to Europe.
According to witnesses flames from the ruptured pipeline reached 200 meters high.
“The explosion occurred at about 14:45 local time in a field. Due to the flame and the high temperatures, it is impossible to get closer to the epicenter,” a local police press service statement reported.
It was not clear if the explosion was an accident or deliberate. The incident follows on the heels of the Russian energy company Gazprom cutting off gas supplies on Monday after Ukraine missed paying an installment of nearly $2 billion for past deliveries.
“Gazprom supplies to Ukraine only the amount that has been paid for, and the amount that has been paid for is zero,” said Gazprom spokesman, Sergei Kupriyanov, according to The New York Times.
The pipeline, constructed during the Soviet era, was considered a threat to the hegemony of Western oil interests. Its construction was strongly opposed by the Reagan administration and the government prevented U.S. companies from selling supplies to the Soviets. The United States said opposition to the pipeline was in retaliation for Soviet policies toward Poland.
In May a stretch of the pipeline located in the Rozhnyatovskogo district of Ivano-Frankivsk region was damaged. Experts reportedly found evidence of remotely controlled explosives at the site. The Ivano-Frankivsk Prosecutor’s office determined the incident was a “terrorist attack” following a criminal investigation.