Russia Blasts Ukraine Over Shifting Gas Demands

MOSCOW, Russia -- President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday accused Ukraine of seeking changes to a contract for the transit of Russian gas across its territory, the latest row over energy between the two feuding states.

Orlovka gas-compressor station near the Ukraine-Romania border.

Medvedev told the head of state-run Russian gas giant Gazprom that Russia would not accept any move by the Ukrainian authorities to demand advance payment for the transit of Russian gas to European consumers via its soil.

Gas supplies and transit have been a constant sticking point in relations between Ukraine's pro-Western leaders and Moscow. A dispute over debts and payments sparked supply cuts which left parts of Europe freezing in January.

Speaking at a meeting at the Kremlin, Alexei Miller, Gazprom chief executive, told Medvedev that Ukraine had sought to change the terms of payment for gas transit fees.

He said that such a change was not stipulated in the current contract.

"As far as an idea of an advance payment for tariffs, then I would like to ask you a simple question -- is it stipulated in a contract?" Medvedev asked Miller in televised comments.

After receiving a negative answer from Miller, Medvedev said: "Then don't pay! There's a need to act in accordance with the contract that has been signed.

"We've specially prepared it, it was born in the throes of pain, has been quite seriously developed and we are currently working in line with it."

Medvedev was referring to the January contract signed by Russia and Ukraine after their New Year dispute left several European countries without Russian gas for two weeks.

Ukraine's presidential envoy on energy issues, Bohdan Sokolovsky, told Echo of Moscow radio that the January contract was putting pressure on Ukraine.

"As of today, the contracts from January 19 are too discriminatory towards Ukraine.

"Life is dictating the necessity to revisit the contracts. Refusing to do so means to jeopardize cooperation in the gas sphere as a whole," he said, condemning the decision by Gazprom not to revisit the terms.

While Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said last week that Ukraine and Russia had sorted out all their differences in the energy sphere, the two countries differ somewhat on gas transit fees for next year.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said last week the company expected gas transit fees through Ukraine to increase to 2.56-2.70 dollars per thousand cubic meters from the 1.70 dollars it pays now.

Ukraine's Naftogaz gave a slightly higher estimate, saying the price for transit of Russian gas would go up to 2.67-2.72 dollars.

Ukraine -- which has long complained that the transit fees Russia pays are too low -- is one of the world's worst hit countries in the global economic crisis.

Relations between Moscow and Kiev have dropped to a post-Soviet low under Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko who came to power after the so-called Orange Revolution ousted the old pro-Moscow elite from power.

Medvedev said in August that Moscow would not be sending a new ambassador to Kiev due to Yushchenko's "anti-Russian" policies and hoped for better relations after January presidential elections.

Source: AFP