ROAR: “Saakashvili will devour Yushchenko’s tie”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
The Ukrainian president’s “political game” is hindering the cooperation of Moscow and Kiev in the gas sphere, the media say.

The heads of the governments of the Commonwealth of Independent States are meeting on November 20 in Ukraine’s Black Sea resort of Yalta. The CIS Heads of Government Council Meeting is taking place in the palace where Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met in the winter of 1945.
Measures to overcome the world financial and economic crisis and a draft bill of the budget of the CIS organs will be discussed, the deputy head of the Russian government’s staff Yury Ushakov told journalists.

In addition, the main directions of cooperation in the sphere of innovations will be determined, Ushakov said. Putin also plans to meet with the head of Kazakhstan’s government, Karim Masimov, and prime ministers of Kyrgyzstan and Moldova, Daniyar Usenov and Vlad Filat respectively.

On the eve of the summit, Putin met with his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko at a meeting of the bilateral committee on the economic cooperation.

Moscow is planning to supply 116 cubic meters of natural gas to Europe in 2010, the Russian government said ahead of Putin’s visit. Ukraine is expected to double its transit fee for Russia, the media say. However, the move is in line with January agreements between the two governments.

Tymoshenko said after talks with Putin that Kiev would fulfill its obligations on the transit of Russian gas according to these agreements.

Prior to the prime ministers’ summit in Yalta, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said in an open letter to his Russian counterpart that the gas contracts should be changed, and warned of possible problems that could arise if it is not done. Ukraine has to pay for contracted gas volumes, but because of the economic crisis, the country has cut consumption.

“Russian analysts see a lot of blunders in Yushchenko’s move,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said. “The revision of gas contracts, at least, on the Ukrainian president’s initiative, is actually ruled out,” Aleksandr Shtok, director of a department of the consulting group 2K-Audit–business consultations, told the paper.
First, Yushchenko in fact does not have any contact with the Russian leadership,” the analyst stressed.

“Second, he is practically removed by the [Ukrainian] government from solving this issue,” he added.
Another blunder came on November 19, when Yushchenko, during a press conference, confused the Russian president’s name and his patronymic name. website, quoting Ukrainian media, said that Yushchenko, speaking on gas contracts, called Russia’s head of state “Anatoly Dmitrievich” instead of “Dmitry Anatolyevich.” The Ukrainian leader did not correct himself, the website said.

Politicians and analysts in Russia stress that the president and the prime minister of Ukraine are sending different signals about the country’s policy in the gas sphere. This is considered to be the part of their rivalry that has only been aggravated since start of the presidential campaign.

“Russia and other countries have repeatedly heard the premier and president [of Ukraine] say totally different things,” Russian presidential aide Sergey Prikhodko said. “We are categorically against Europe’s energy security being dependent on Ukrainian politicians’ personal ambitions,” he stressed.
“The attempt to frighten Russia and Europe with forecasts of a gas transit crisis is something from the sphere of political blackmail,” Prikhodko added.

Aleksey Mukhin, general director of the Center for Political Information believes that Yushchenko has tried to become “a shadow element” in the talks between Tymoshenko and Putin.

The analyst described Yushchenko’s letter as an attempt to strengthen his positions on the eve of elections. “Ukrainians will ask who is to blame for the bankruptcy of one of Ukraine’s richest companies, Naftogaz,” Mukhin told Novye Izvestia daily. “Yushchenko is making Russia responsible for the poor state of this company,” he added.

Putin said in Yalta that there would be no penalties for Naftogaz for lower gas consumption “taking into consideration the special character of relations between Russia and Ukraine.” He also expressed hope that all the agreements in the gas sphere would be fulfilled and there would be no “surprises during the New Year celebrations.”

Yushchenko’s decision to send a letter to President Dmitry Medvedev, who “had broken relations” with his Ukrainian counterpart, can be described only as a “political game,” Vremya Novostey daily said. More so, because on the day of Putin’s arrival in Yalta, Yushchenko met with “the main foe of the Russian leadership,” Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, the paper said.

Ukrainian analysts have also considered Yushchenko’s letter as “a strategy intended to aggravate the atmosphere of talks between Tymoshenko and Putin,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta said. And they think that “Kiev’s invitation for Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili at the moment when the Ukrainian and Russian prime ministers are meeting in Yalta, serves the same purpose,” the paper added.

Putin said in Yalta that Yushchenko and Saakashvili during their meeting were probably “reminiscing about past days and battles that they have lost together.” He also advised the Ukrainian leader to have supper with Saakashvili “not wearing ties.” The Ukrainian president’s guest would “devour” Yushchenko’s tie, Putin supposed, referring to the 2008 footage of Saakashvili chewing his own tie before a BBC interview.

One of the aims of Saakashvili’s visit to Ukraine was to support Yushchenko’s presidential campaign. As for the meeting of Tymoshenko and Putin, they had not planned to discuss political situation in Ukraine, Ushakov said. “But when heads of governments meet on the eve of the elections, it is difficult to avoid this topic,” Ushakov was quoted by Vremya Novostey as saying. At the same time, he added that this should not be treated as “Putin’s support for Tymoshenko.”

The Russian prime minister, however, said in Ukraine: “It’s comfortable for us to work with the Tymoshenko government. During the time of the cooperation, relations between Russia and Ukraine have become more stable and strengthened.”

Any Ukrainian presidential candidate will reach mutual understanding with Moscow if he or she “pursues a friendly, respectful, good-neighbor policy toward Russia,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on November 19.

Russia simply wants to deal with the Ukrainian leadership that “is capable of making agreements, does not see a non-existent threat in Russia and does not try to make us responsible for all its problems,” Lavrov said.

Sergey Borisov, RT