Ukraine Accuses Russia Of Applying Political Pressure In Gas Dispute

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko's administration accused Russia on Thursday of seeking to use a recent dispute over natural gas to influence Ukrainian politics following parliamentary elections.

Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly, OAO Gazprom, said last week Ukraine owed more than US$1.3 billion (€920 million) for gas and threatened to decrease supplies if it was not paid this month.

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov later put the figure at US$2 billion (€1.4 billion).

The move raised concerns of decreased deliveries to Europe and added to political uncertainty in Ukraine, where parties were in tense talks on forming a coalition and Cabinet following the Sep. 30 parliamentary elections.

"We regard it as a certain political pressure on Ukraine in this complicated moment of forming a new government in our state," said deputy presidential administration chief Oleksandr Shlapak, according to the president's Web site.

Gazprom made the announcement shortly after it became clear that opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who has tense relations with Moscow, could become prime minister.

Tymoshenko has criticized the use of an intermediary in supplying gas to Ukraine and has promised to get rid of it.

This week Ukraine agreed to settle the debt, partly by paying cash and partly by handing some of its gas reserves back to Gazprom.

Shlapak suggested Moscow was also eager to weaken Ukraine's position before talks on the gas price for next year, which Ukrainians fear could rise from the current US$130 (€92) per 1,000 cubic meters.

"In my view, the very timing and tone of the statement shows that Gazprom wants to see something more behind these negotiations than simply problems between companies," Shlapak said.

Source: International Herald Tribune