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11 Jan, 2009 20:20

Kiev ‘close’ to signing original gas deal

The EU has reportedly persuaded Kiev to sign a three-way gas transit deal between Russia, Ukraine and the EU without attaching amendments.

Earlier, Moscow put the agreement on hold after Kiev made last-minute changes before signing it.

Ukraine has reportedly changed its stance after telephone talks between Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barrosa.

An EU spokesperson said Kiev was now prepared to sign the gas transit agreement.

Ukraine’s amendments make gas deal ‘invalid’

The sticking point has been an additional document Ukraine proposed to attach to the agreement. Russia says the additions alter the original text. One of the amendments is a clause saying Ukraine did not steal gas earmarked for Europe.

The Russian President has announced that those in Ukraine who made the amendments should realise that this invalidates the document.

“We have no other option than to declare this document worthless,” Dmitry Medvedev said.

He has told the government not to fulfil the terms of the agreement, which was signed by Russia and the representatives of the EU on Saturday.

“It will not be fulfilled until this reservation is cancelled or annulled by the Ukrainian side,” Medvedev said.

He also appealed to the European Union: “We ask our European colleagues to convince the Ukrainian authorities to drop the amendments which contradict the original text of the agreement.”

On Sunday, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, that any amendments and reservations to the document initially agreed by the EU and Russia were inadmissible. Putin stressed that Ukraine’s additions to the protocol change it radically. He said the changes were mainly to do with business relations between Russia’s Gazprom and Ukraine’s Naftogaz – the countries’ respective state-run gas companies.

Kiev’s stance ‘contradictory’ and ‘destructive’

Gazprom has criticised Ukraine’s latest move, saying the country had again ‘taken a destructive position’ in the face of agreement between Russia and the EU.

“Any sane person having put the two documents in front of him, would notice that Ukraine’s declaration is a mere provocation and an attempt to deprive the initial document of any sense,” Gazprom’s spokesperson Sergey Kupriyanov said.

He also pointed out an apparent contradiction in Kiev’s position.

“Ukraine is demanding from Russia 21 million cubic metres of gas daily to provide gas transit. But according to the existing transit contract, for technical needs, Ukraine’s Naftogaz is to use gas from its own reserves or buy it from Gazprom or any other supplier”.

Kupriyanov added that Ukraine is insisting that the monitoring group should work for two months at most. Gazprom, he said, believes it should continue its work until the conflict is resolved and when court procedures on the issue are finished.

Ukraine's gas transport system

Earlier on Sunday Vladimir Putin said Russia is ready to buy into Ukraine's gas transport system, if Kiev agrees. The Russian Prime Minister was speaking as the energy dispute between the two countries continued.

In an interview with a German TV channel, Putin said that Russia could “take part in the privatisation if Ukraine has such a wish”.

He also pointed out that Moscow had “proposed several years ago to rent the system, which would thus remain the property of the Ukrainian state.”

He added in the interview that the EU should lend Ukraine the cash to pay off its gas debts.

International monitoring

Meanwhile, monitors have arrived at the assigned points to control the transit of Russian gas through Ukraine. Gazprom says it will resume a full gas supply to Europe only when the monitors confirm there has been no theft of gas. Gazprom’s condition is made in connection with the agreement reached by Ukraine, Russia and the EU, allowing international monitors to check the flow of gas through its territory.

Both Ukraine and Russia have been criticised by the European Union for letting the dispute go so far.

Europe has not received any gas from Russia since Moscow was forced to fully stop sending gas through Ukraine on January 7. Homes are unheated, schools and businesses closed and people are freezing because of the deadlock. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans have faced severe gas shortages, but Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Serbia are feeling the brunt, while Germany, also hit by the halt, has tapped into its reserves.