Saturday, December 10, 2005

Putin Talks Tough Over Ukraine Gas

NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia -- President Vladimir Putin struck a hard line Thursday in a dispute with Ukraine over natural gas supplies, saying that the country could afford to pay the market price for Russian gas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Cabinet officials reported to Putin that Russia and Ukraine had failed to strike a deal on Russian natural gas supplies to Ukraine next year. "Difficult work is under way and no solution has been found yet," Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said.

Putin said that Ukraine's economy had seen fast growth this year and added that the Ukrainian government had received substantial privatization revenues and Western loans.

The loans "total billions of dollars, and this is quite sufficient for buying the necessary amount of gas from Russia at the market price," Putin said during a Cabinet meeting at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence.

Ukraine has rejected Moscow's attempts to more than triple the price of gas from the current $50 per 1,000 cubic meters to $160 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, having returned from a trip to Brussels, told Putin that the European Union, which gets almost half of its gas imports from Russia, was following the issue "very attentively, with great interest."

European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said Thursday that he did not expect the gas row between Russia and Ukraine to affect gas supplies to the EU. There will be "no difficulty with gas transit from Russia to the EU. ... I don't know of any case where Ukraine hasn't fulfilled its obligations," Piebalgs told reporters after a meeting with Ukrainian Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov.

Plachkov said a deal with Russia could be negotiated in the next several days, Interfax reported.

Belarussian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky said Thursday that his nation would be getting Russian gas for $47 per 1,000 cubic meters next year.

Source: AP

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