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Ukraine asks EU to mediate in gas dispute with Russia


Moscow : Ukraine has asked the European Union (EU) to mediate in the escalating dispute with Russia on gas deliveries, as a Kremlin deadline to cut off supplies to Kiev passed Thursday morning.

A joint statement signed by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko made public early Thursday morning said their country had asked the EU to mediate the dispute, and promised supplies to Europe would continue “uninterrupted”.

Moscow was set to stop gas delivery as of 10 a.m. local time in the Russian capital on New Year’s Day, if both countries failed to agree on new fees for gas deliveries.

Reports on the actual status of gas pumped to Ukraine by Russia were conflicting Thursday morning, with Ukrainian officials and eyewitnesses saying the flow was continuing unchanged, and Gazprom officials declaring volumes were reduced by some 75 percent, at the precise moment the deadline passed.

Negotiating positions between the two countries on a new gas delivery contract were still far apart Wednesday evening, with Russia offering gas at a price of $250 per 1,000 cubic metres and demanding no change to gas shipment tariffs charged by Ukraine for delivery of product to Europe via Ukrainian pipelines.

The Yushchenko-Tymoshenko statement, however, said Ukraine could accept a maximum price of $201 for Russian gas and a minimum 15 percent hike in transit fees.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Wednesday called Russia’s position “extremely advantageous” for Ukraine, and declared the $250 rate as the Kremlin’s final offer.

Russian export monopolist Gazprom said it would continue to deliver natural gas to Europe through Ukrainian pipelines.

A Thursday declaration from Ukraine’s ministry of foreign affairs said Ukraine would transfer European gas westward “in full volume,” but added that as far as Kiev was concerned, in the absence of a new gas delivery contract the old one was still in effect.

The Ukrainian official position made clear Kiev’s intention to siphon gas if Gazprom were in fact to reduce overall volumes, as the 2008 Russo-Ukrainian contract – considered ineffective by Russia and effective by Ukraine – commits Gazprom to delivery of a volume of gas sufficient to meet Ukrainian and European demand.

Experts said that full storage sites in Ukraine and within the EU guaranteed downstream supply for the time being.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko reassured EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday that gas transit would continue uninterrupted, but Gazprom claimed that Ukraine’s Naftogas threatened to seize transit gas deliveries.

Ukraine, during a 2006 gas supply cut by Russia, siphoned a portion of the gas Gazprom intended to send to Europe, arguing the fuel diversion was not theft, but rather collection of gas transit fees.