Sunday, February 3, 2008

Ukraine Natural Gas Involves Russian Middlemen

The Ukrainian government on Saturday announced its first formal step toward eliminating a partly Russian-owned intermediary company from its natural gas purchase deals.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said the country's National Security and Defense Council on Friday instructed the government to break up the contracts between the Ukrainian natural gas distribution monopoly Naftogaz and the Swiss-based trading company RosUkrEnergo because "they contain elements of corruption and are unprofitable."

Half of RosUkrEnergo is owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom and the rest by two Ukrainian businessmen. The deal has been in place since 2004.

Nearly all of Ukraine's gas imports come through Russia from the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan.

Ukraine is seeking to buy natural gas directly. Losing influence over gas imports to Ukraine would likely anger Russia.

Ukraine and Russia have clashed over gas imports in the past. Moscow temporarily cut off gas supplies to Ukraine two years ago — a shutdown also felt in Western Europe — in a move widely seen as punishment for Ukraine's pro-Western course.

Tymoshenko said Saturday that the process of breaking up deals with RosUkrEnergo would be "gradual," to avoid supply disruptions and price hikes on the domestic market.

Tymoshenko is expected in Moscow later this month to discuss energy issues.

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