Associated Press (AP), Kiev, Ukraine,

Friday, December 16, 2005

KIEV – Russia’s hard-line stance against Ukraine in their natural gas price
dispute could backfire and provoke a surge of pro-Western sentiment in
Ukraine, analysts and lawmakers predicted Friday.

Russia wants to raise the price it charges Ukraine for gas more than
fourfold to bring it to European levels. Kiev, which had been paying $50 per
1,000 cubic meters, had asked for the increase to be phased in over five
years to give its energy-inefficient industrial sector time to adjust.
Moscow rejected the request and has threatened to turn off the taps if a
deal isn’t signed by Jan. 1.

“We’re proceeding from an absolutely clear understanding – the sooner we
liberalize the price on gas, the sooner we will become competitive, and the
faster we can avoid serious political dependence, which often arises around
gas,” President Viktor Yushchenko said Friday, according to his office. “But
this isn’t a decision that is taken in the morning, and applied in the
evening,” he said.

The dispute comes ahead of Ukraine’s March parliamentary elections, in which
critics of last year’s Orange Revolution are hoping for big wins, propelled
by disappointment over the slow pace of reforms under Yushchenko.

“Russia just doesn’t get it. To win influence…don’t apply pressure and
make threats,” said analyst Serhiy Taran of the International Institute of
Democracy. “It creates problems for all the pro-Russian parties because
Russia doesn’t have a very good image right now.”

At a protest in downtown Kiev in support of cooperation with Russia,
Valentin Doroshenko was undeterred by the fact that only eight people showed
up. “Being together with Russia means having gas,” he shouted into a
megaphone. Most passers-by ignored him.

The political party of former presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych,
which has its base in the Russian-speaking east, has stayed silent.
Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions draws support from industrial leaders,

who could see their factories hit the hardest by the gas price increases.

The Communist Party, whose support has eroded recently, have been the most
aggressive in attacking Yushchenko’s government, blaming its pro-Western
policies for spoiling relations with Russia. Some nationalist parties,
meanwhile, are putting pressure on Yushchenko not to cave in, despite
Russian complaints that Ukraine is dragging its feet.

“Whenever Russia speaks about how unprofessional our officials are
acting…it means they are acting in the national interests of Ukraine and
Russia isn’t getting what it wants,” said Yaroslav Kendzor, a lawmaker from
the pro-government Our Ukraine faction.

Later Friday, Yushchenko spoke on the phone with Russian President Vladimir
Putin, Russian news agencies reported. Putin agreed with Yushchenko that the
discussions about gas supplies “should not be politicized,” ITAR-Tass and
Interfax reported. -30-


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