‘They don’t want to pay’ – Putin on Ukraine gas row

Officials are making last-ditch efforts to resolve the debt dispute between Russia’s Gazprom and Kiev before Ukraine’s gas contract expires at the end of the year.

Speaking to journalists in Moscow on Monday, Prime Minister Putin said he had an hour-long phone conversation with Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko on the issue. However, he said, there was “no deal yet”. When asked why, he added: “They don’t want to pay”.

Gazprom, Russia’s state run gas monopoly, says its Ukrainian counterpart Naftagas has not paid for gas supplied between October and December. The standing debt, including penalty fees, comes to more then $US 2 billion.

Gazprom has also warned its European consumers that it doesn’t trust Ukraine’s integrity concerning its transit obligations.

The gas giant has also said it may take a firmer approach to gas pricing in 2009. In 2008, Ukraine paid $US 179.5 per 1,000 cubic metres of gas. Gasprom CEO Aleksey Miller said if prices reflected market rates, Ukraine would be paying more then twice that – $US 418 per 1,000 cubic metres. He added that 2009 would be higher for Ukraine no matter what.

Meanwhile, speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Vladimir Litvin, is in Moscow in an attempt to push forward the stalled negotiations. However, his meetings with Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin failed to bring a breakthrough, as the Russian Prime Minister’s evening comments show.