Basing on the simulation results, it is shown that the Townsend mechanism of electron multiplication in a gas at sufficiently large interelectrode distances is valid at least up to such large values of E/p at which relativistic electrons are generated. Correspondingly, the runaway electron producing in a gas is determined not by the local criteria accepted presently, but by the ratio of interelectrode distance and the characteristic electron multiplication length. It is shown that the critical discharge voltage U, at which the runaway electrons appear in a given gas, is a function of the product of the interelectrode distance by the gas pressure. This function (U-pd dependence) defines not only well-known Paschen curve but also an additional branch, which describes the absence of a self-sustained discharge at a high voltages sufficiently rapidly supplied across the electrodes. Critical discharge voltage dependence for helium and xenon are presented.
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