Ukraine, Russia Still At Odds In Gas Standoff: Putin

MOSCOW, Russia -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Monday that Russia and Ukraine had failed to break the deadlock in their dispute over gas debts, as the clock ticked down to a New Year deadline to settle the dispute.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

"We have not agreed so far," Putin said Monday, after what he said was an hour-long telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

Asked why the two sides had still failed to reach an agreement, Putin replied succinctly: "Because they (Ukraine) do not want to pay."

Putin's comments came as Russia ramps up pressure on Ukraine to pay off two billion dollars in gas debts in full or face a cut in gas supplies from January 1.

Moscow and Kiev are locked in a price dispute, the fourth in as many years, and Gazprom has said it will cut supplies to Ukraine if it does not pay off its gas debt in full by January 1 so a new contract can be signed.

Also Monday, the CEO of Russian energy giant Gazprom Alexei Miller and the head of Ukraine state gas company Naftogaz Oleh Dubyna were meeting in Moscow but the meeting has not yielded any result so far, a Gazprom spokeswoman said.

"Unfortunately, nothing is happening so far," she told AFP. "Everything changes every hour."

Gazprom deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev expressed hope in a televised interview that the countries would find a solution within the next three days.

"We very much hope that the proposals that we are tirelessly putting forward will be accepted by the Ukrainian side, which will allow us to enter the new year with the signed contracts and reassure the people in Europe, in Russia and Ukraine," he told Vesti television channel.

Medvedev reiterated that Gazprom had taken steps to keep its European partners informed of progress in the gas dispute.

The company has even launched an English-language website, www.gazpromukrainefacts.com to give its side of the dispute.

Earlier Monday, Gazprom's board of directors met for an extraordinary meeting, the sole item on the agenda being the situation concerning the Ukrainian gas debts, the spokeswoman said.

Gazprom said in a statement the board meeting had agreed to "continue work" with Ukraine over payment arrears but did not elaborate.

The statement added that Gazprom would carry out its obligations towards the European gas consumers "in full", indicating any possible gas cuts would not disrupt supplies to Europe.

The Gazprom spokeswoman said company specialists were being told to be at work over the New Year's night if the company management decided to cut gas to Ukraine.

The Russian gas giant maintains that Naftogaz owes it more than two billion dollars for gas delivered in November and December and fines for late payment.

Source: AFP

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