Ukraine Says It Will Not Accept Blackmail, Pressure From Moscow

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will not be blackmailed by Russia, Ukraine's foreign minister vowed Thursday, as the two countries continued their verbal clashes in an escalating dispute over natural gas supplies.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Borys Tarasiuk

Foreign Minister Borys Tarasiuk's remarks were the latest volley in the ongoing feud over Moscow's demand that Ukraine pay more than quadruple the current price it pays for gas imports from Russia. Kiev has refused, saying such a sharp hike would harm energy-inefficient industries and poor consumers.

"We want to develop partnership, friendly and neighborly relations with Russia, but we will never accept blackmail and pressure," Tarasiuk told reporters.

Also Thursday, President Viktor Yushchenko spoke over the telephone with Turkmenistan counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov in an apparent attempt to alleviate a looming gas crisis. A statement from Yushchenko's office said the two leaders spoke about "energy issues and gas shipments."

Earlier Thursday, Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov and the head of the state-run gas provider Naftogaz Ukrainy traveled to the Turkmen capital Ashgabat to try and agree on new prices for the next year.

Turkmenistan, which supplies Ukraine with more than half of its gas imports, has also proposed increasing prices.

Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russia for its energy supplies and Kiev has threatened it could reconsider the US$97 million (Ђ77 million) in annual rent that Russia pays to base its Black Sea fleet in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.

Russia's state-run gas giant Gazprom has rejected Kiev's request for a phased increase and has threatened to turn off the taps if a deal is not signed by Jan. 1.

Russia provides almost half of the EU's gas imports, and some 80 percent of that goes through Ukrainian pipelines. The feud has raised fears that these supplies could be interrupted.

Tarasiuk said he regrets that "the line of confrontation, which can be seen in the actions and statements of some Russian politicians, narrows the opportunities for a normal dialogue."

"One should bear in mind that Ukraine depends on Russia as much as Russia depends on Ukraine," he said.

The disputes highlight a growing rift in Russian-Ukrainian relations that emerged in last year's Orange Revolution which brought to power the pro-Western Yushchenko to the presidency. His administration has sought to bring the former Soviet nation away from the Kremlin's sphere of influence and closer to NATO and the European Union.

Also Thursday, in what appeared to be an attempt to soothe tensions, the top official with Ukraine's security council, Anatoly Kinakh, traveled to Russia for discussions with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov.

An official statement said the talks would include "conditions for strengthening bilateral cooperation."

Meanwhile, speaking Thursday to his National Security Council in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin made veiled reference to the dispute and the threat to Russia's gas exports to Europe

"Before us stands large-scale work for developing infrastructure to diversify fuel export routes," Putin was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency. "That will reduce the potential risks and, of course, open access to promising, new markets, in particular the Asia Pacific region."

Russia is currently building a new oil pipeline that will stretch across eastern Siberia and provide a crucial outlet for oil and gas exports to China, Japan and other Asian markets, reports AP.

Source: NewsFromRussia

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