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Ukraine's energy minister rushes to Moscow for talks over Gazprom's claim of gas debt

Ukraine's energy minister rushes to Moscow for talks over Gazprom's claim of gas debt

Russia strongly urged Ukraine on Wednesday to make good on what it said was a US$1.3 billion (euro920 million) debt for gas shipments, but sought to assure a worried European Union that export supplies would not be affected.
Dmitry Medvedev, first deputy premier and chairman of Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly, OAO Gazprom, said the Ukrainian government has promised to deal with the debt accumulated by Ukrainian consumers.
"European consumers will be in an absolutely comfortable situation," Medvedev said in televised remarks after talks with Ukraine's Energy Minister Yuriy Boiko.
Ukraine's Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said at a Cabinet session Wednesday that he too may go to Moscow. "The issue is very complicated," he said.
Both Gazprom and Ukraine have said the dispute would not disrupt Russian gas exports to the European Union, as happened in early 2006, when Gazprom cut off supplies to Ukraine in a pricing dispute.
In Brussels, EU spokesman Ferran Tarradellas Espuny appealed to both Gazprom and Kiev to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible.
He said the European Commission in coming days would convene an emergency meeting of gas experts and Russian and Ukrainian officials to see what effect the dispute could have on gas supplies to the 27-nation bloc.
The ultimatum came as Ukrainian election officials continued counting ballots from Sunday's fiercely contested parliamentary vote.
Yanukovych faces the possibility of losing his post, as the parties of his rivals _ President Viktor Yushchenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko _ make a strong combined showing that puts them in a position to form a Cabinet.
Tymoshenko, who could return to her post as prime minister, said she would seek to negotiate a new gas deal with Russia that would better protect Ukrainian interests. Yanukovych, who was strongly backed by Moscow when he lost the 2004 presidential race to Yushchenko, has taken a more neutral stance since then, pledging to integrate more closely into Europe, but is still seen as more Russia-friendly.
While Moscow largely stayed out of Sunday's election, the ultimatum from the state-controlled gas giant could reflect the Kremlin's hope to influence Ukrainian politics.
Gazprom could have put the debt on the back burner to avoid damaging Yanukovych before the vote, analysts said. Now, with the Orange parties close to victory, the Kremlin may have toughened its stance in anticipation of future talks with a Tymoshenko government.
Gazprom supplies gas it buys in Turkmenistan to Ukraine through a Swiss-based company, RosUkrEnergo, half of which is owned by Gazprom and half by two little-known Ukrainian businessmen. Tymoshenko has criticized the intermediary and promised to get rid of it.
Turkmenistan has said recently it wants to raise the price for gas supplied to Russia, which would increase the price for Ukraine.
Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told The Associated Press it was Ukrainian consumers, not the government, which owe the debt.
Vadim Chuprun, Ukraine's deputy energy minister, said earlier it was unclear what Gazprom's calculations were based upon. He also said the country had enough gas in its reserves to ensure uninterrupted transit supplies to Europe.
"We need to look into this. The debt is divided into several parts. There are many players on the market and we must find out where this debt is coming from," he said in televised comments.
Gazprom's ultimatum quickly raised new concerns in the European Union about an over reliance on Russian energy. The state-controlled company supplies a quarter of the gas used by Europe, and the pipelines that cross Ukraine transport most of it.
Tuesday's warning referred specifically to cuts in supplies for Ukrainian users. But, during the previous dispute, Gazprom accused Ukraine of siphoning gas, leading to decreased supplies farther west in Europe.
EU spokesman Tarradellas Espuny told reporters that the conflict was a commercial dispute.
"But we are watching with a lot of attention" because Gazprom supplies most of the EU's gas and Ukraine is the transit point for 80 percent of Russian shipments, he told reporters in Brussels.
The Kremlin has been accused of using gas and oil prices as political tools to reward its allies and punish Western-leaning countries in the former Soviet space. But Gazprom has insisted that its intentions are only to bring the price to market levels and stop subsidizing Russia's neighbors.
Medvedev said Gazprom cannot afford to let Ukraine's debt to pile up because it needs money for investment projects, including a long-promised plan to expand gas supplies to Russia's hinterland.
"Gazprom isn't a charity shop, it's a big company which carries out a large number of investment projects," he said. "We can't make our investment projects hostage to this debt situation."
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Associated Press writer Maria Danilova in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-19 22:42 GMT+08:00