Ukraine President, Prime Minister Row Again Before Key Meeting

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president and prime minister, at odds over the merits of a deal to restore Russian gas flows to Europe, traded new barbs on Thursday ahead of a meeting of top officials about the agreement.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who praises the accord and the 2009 gas price as a "victory" for Ukraine, said the National Security and Defence Council had no right to derail the deal she struck at weekend talks in the Kremlin.

President Viktor Yushchenko says the deal's provisions for Ukraine to pay European prices less 20 percent damaged the national interest. He made no direct reference to the premier but warned in a speech against "alluring promises".

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko were allies in the 2004 "Orange Revolution" that swept Ukraine's pro-Western leaders to power. They have since been at odds on nearly all policy issues, particularly since Tymoshenko was made prime minister for a second time in late 2007.

In an address marking the 1919 proclamation of a shortlived Ukrainian state that was crushed by the Bolsheviks, Yushchenko said Ukrainians would not be duped by groundless pledges.

"We must not blindly believe alluring promises. We must not blindly believe politicians who, within an instant, betray the national interest," he told dignitaries.

Tymoshenko said a meeting on Friday of the National Security and Defence Council could in no way alter the deal's provisions to do away with what she denounces as "corrupt" intermediaries in trade between the Ukrainian and Russian gas companies.

"I will not allow the president to bring back corrupt intermediaries between (Russia's) Gazprom and (Ukraine's) Naftogaz, no matter what sort of council meeting he holds," Tymoshenko told a news conference.

"I believe that if the president could have secured better conditions, there was no one to stop him. A meeting of the Council should have taken place in the middle of the crisis."

The premier says the Council, whose decisions must in theory be implemented under the constitution, has no powers to overturn the deal clinched in two tough Kremlin negotiating sessions.

In her comments, Tymoshenko renewed her attack on the central bank, saying its "speculative manoeuvres led to such an abrupt and groundless fall in the hryvnia (currency), which has placed the economy in such a difficult position".

The hryvnia fell to 50 percent of its former value late last year, but has since regained ground.

Tymoshenko has urged the president to sack the central bank chairman and said parliament must determine his responsibility in the currency's decline, which has increased the cost of loans taken out by millions of Ukrainians to purchase cars or homes.

A year before a presidential election, Tymoshenko rides high in polls just behind Viktor Yanukovich, the Kremlin-backed candidate initially declared the winner in a rigged 2004 presidential poll that sparked the "Orange Revolution" protests. Yushchenko trails far behind in surveys.

Source: Kyiv Post