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12 Jan, 2009 22:49

Ukraine split by gas row

Ukraine's president and Prime Minister are once again in opposite corners of the political ring. With presidential elections looming, the gas dispute is adding fuel to their differences.

The New Year was only a few hours old when supplies of Russian fuel to Ukraine were cut. At that point PM Timoshenko and president Yushchenko appeared to be united, issuing a joint statement condemning the move. They said the country would not freeze. The united front was rare at a time when the two seemed to be permanently at loggerheads.

“Today, we can see a more or less consolidated position of the President and the Prime minister in talks with Russia. But the political crisis in the country will continue,” political analyst Yulia Tyshenko said.

But it turned out to be a fragile peace. As the gas conflict escalated, the two former allies again took different approaches.

While Yushchenko released one statement after the other, the iron lady of Ukrainian politics quietly took a back seat. And then Timoshenko chose her moment to strike.

She was the one to sign a three-party agreement with Russia and the EU, key to bringing Russian gas back to Europe.

“We have signed one more protocol that is like the one we already signed in Brussels but without Russia. Today we have signed an agreement to give access to EU monitors to visit all Ukrainian gas stations and exporting stations from the Russian side,” Yulia Timoshenko said.

She insisted Ukraine had not siphoned off Russian gas illegally as Gazprom had claimed, while Yushchenko was more reserved in his comments.

“Some foreign politicians blame the Ukrainian state and certain officials for the crimes. It harms Ukraine’s image and interests. So I propose to organize immediately an investigation and to take a reasonable and legal decision based on the results of it,” Viktor Yushchenko said.

Some experts say it is Yushchenko’s attempt to get a grip on the situation and to assert his authority after Timoshenko’s successes.

But the leader of the opposition Party of Regions, Viktor Yanukovich, sees the efforts of both as insufficient.

“In this situation, branches of power do not matter to us – we believe that both the prime minister and the president must admit their mistakes and resign,” he said.

2009 is election year in Ukraine and a presidential campaign is already under way. The gas saga is adding fuel to a burning political pot.

The issue of a new contract on supplies of gas to Ukraine remains vital. And the politician who delivers it will certainly reap a reward.