Ukraine Security Forces Try To Enter Pipeline Group

KIEV, Ukraine -- Officials from Ukraine's SBU security service tried on Thursday to gain entry to the offices of the authority overseeing Ukraine's gas pipelines, but later left the building, a spokesman for the company said.

It was the second such incident in as many days and served to highlight tensions between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

On Wednesday, armed SBU officers burst into the offices of Ukraine's national energy company Naftogaz as part of investigations into what it said were abuses -- as the firm was making arrangements to settle a critical bill for Russian gas.

Ukraine is the main transit route for Russian gas exports to Europe, and a dispute over prices with Russia in January disrupted supplies to many countries.

Yushchenko's spokeswoman said the SBU had acting within the law. But Tymoshenko, the president's estranged ally and now arch rival, said the investigation was aimed at disrupting Ukraine's system of gas distribution and payment.

Yushchenko has criticised the prime minister for her conduct in clinching a deal in January under which Ukraine is to pay far more for imported Russian gas. Naftogaz said it had paid 80 percent of the February gas bill and would settle the rest on Thursday.

Last month, the SBU launched criminal proceedings into what it said was an illegal deal by Naftogaz to secure control over more than 6 billion cubic metres of gas.

Tymoshenko said Wednesday's action by security forces was linked to a new row over the takeover by customs of 11 billion cubic metres of gas from RosUkrEnergo, an intermediary eliminated from the gas trade under the latest deal.

A spokeswoman for the Ukrtransgaz company that runs Ukraine's pipelines said a group of men in civilian clothes and apparently unarmed had demanded entry to the building. She said the group presented no documents or warrants.

A Naftogaz spokesman, Ilya Savin, said the group left the premises after about an hour after a standoff with members of parliament who had rushed to the scene.

SBU spokeswoman Maryna Ostapenko had earlier said: "Representatives of the SBU are conducting an investigation within the framework of a criminal case over abuses in the gas sector."

On Wednesday, SBU officers in riot gear pushed their way into Naftogaz offices, conducting a search for what company officials said were the original copies of a gas supply deal signed in January with Russian giant Gazprom .

Naftogaz said they left hours later without the documents.

Ukraine's key industries and its currency have been battered by the financial crisis. Yushchenko and Tymoshenko briefly abandoned their antagonism this week to make a joint submission to the International Monetary Fund to keep intact a $16.4 billion loan programme.

Source: Kyiv Post