2. UKRAINE WON’T BE BLACKMAILED BY RUSSIA IN GAS SPAT

Associated Press (AP), Kiev, Ukraine,
December 22, 2005

KIEV – Ukraine’s foreign minister warned Russia Thursday that Kiev will not be blackmailed in an escalating gas dispute. “We want to develop partnership, friendly and neighborly relations with Russia, but we will never accept blackmail and pressure,” Foreign Minister Borys Tarasiuk told reporters.

His remarks were the latest volley in an ongoing feud between the two countries over Moscow’s demands that Ukraine pay more than quadruple the current price for the gas it imports from Russia next year.

Ukraine, which is heavily dependent on Russia for its energy supplies, has warned it could review the $97 million annual rent Russia pays to base the Russian Black Sea fleet in Ukraine’s southern port of Sevastopol.

Ukraine asked for a phased increase to give energy-inefficient industry time to adjust. Russia’s gas giant Gazprom, however, rejected the request and has threatened to turn off the taps if a deal isn’t signed by Jan. 1.

Russia provides almost half of the European Union’s gas imports, and some 80% of that goes through Ukrainian pipelines. The feud has raised fears that these supplies could be interrupted.

Tarasiuk said he regrets that “the line of confrontation, which can be seen in the actions and statements of some Russian politicians, narrows the opportunities for a normal dialogue.” “One should bear in mind that Ukraine depends on Russia as much as Russia depends on Ukraine,” he said.

The gas and fleet disputes highlight a rift in Russian-Ukrainian relations that emerged with last year’s Orange Revolution which brought to power pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko.

The new leadership has sought to bring the former Soviet nation of 47 million away from the Kremlin’s sphere of influence and closer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. “The matter is, obviously, not about the figures and amounts…but about the approaches shown by our (Russian) partners,” Tarasiuk said. -30-

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