Ukrainian Prosecutors Deny Plan To Question Putin

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian prosecutors scrambled on Wednesday to deny reports suggesting that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will be questioned in connection with a new probe opened against opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Vladimir Putin (L) with Yulia Tymoshenko.

The probe was opened earlier this week to investigate whether Tymoshenko, then the prime minister, had exceeded her authority in January 2009 while negotiating a 10-year natural gas deal with Russia.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said repeatedly the deal had benefited Russia significantly and was “extremely unfavorable” for Ukraine as it had set gas prices exceeding those in many other European countries.

The probe was opened on Monday, a day before Putin was due to arrive in Ukraine for a range of political and trade talks, triggering speculation there was a political connection to the investigation.

The shockwave came when Tymoshenko’s lawyer, Bohdan Ferenz, on Wednesday reported, citing investigator Oleksandr Nechvohlod, that Putin will be questioned before the case goes to court.

“Nechvohlod said this: Putin will be mandatorily questioned in the near future because the case without it cannot be submitted to court,” Ferenz said in a statement.

But hours after the Ferenz report had been released, the Prosecutor General’s Office deniedthe report.

“This is absolutely not true,” Yuriy Boychenko, the spokesman, told Ukrayinska Pravda online newspaper.

The developments come as Putin, at talks with Azarov and President Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday in Kiev, has failed to make progress in persuading Ukraine to abandon negotiations with the European Union and to join the Moscow-led trade bloc in exchange for lower natural gas prices.

Ukraine has been desperately seeking to lower the gas prices after the January 2009 gas agreement, which had set a formula linking gas prices to prices of crude oil.

As oil prices has been growing steeply, the price of gas that Ukraine must pay has been increasing to levels unsustainable for the Ukrainian economy and threatening to slow down economic expansion.

The gas price appears to be much higher than what is quoted for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, and other alternative fuels, such as nuclear fuel, that can be used to generate power in Ukraine.

Renat Kuzmin, the first deputy prosecutor general, said the Tymoshenko-Putin gas deal may have caused more than 1.5 billion hryvnias in damages for Ukraine.

Source: Ukrainian Journal