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GAZPROM BOOSTS GAS DELIVERIES. Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said in Moscow on 23 January that the state-run monopoly has begun producing 85 million cubic meters of natural gas per day over its planned volume and is now operating at full capacity, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2006). He argued that "the current freeze presents a situation unique in the last decade. And thanks to Gazprom's efforts, we can live through it in warm flats with gas and electricity." Kupriyanov added, however, that any customers who have the option of switching to coal or heating oil should do so. Elsewhere, Gazprom deputy head Aleksandr Medvedev said that Ukraine is not sending on to Russia's European customers all the gas that Gazprom has been trying to get to them. On 24 January, officials of Naftohaz Ukrayiny said in Kyiv that their firm has been accessing Russian gas "in excess of the plan" because of the cold snap but "will meet the January balance as agreed with Russia," ITAR-TASS reported. PM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS STABILIZATION PLAN FOR PARLIAMENT... President Viktor Yushchenko on 23 January proposed what he called a "plan for stabilizing the social and political situation in Ukraine," Ukrainian and international media reported. Yushchenko was delivering a televised address to the nation to mark the first anniversary of his inauguration. "I consider it necessary to introduce a moratorium on all decisions or actions by the legislature and executive that could lead to instability in Ukraine," Yushchenko said. He stressed that both branches of power should create all necessary conditions for holding fair parliamentary elections in March. At the same time, Yushchenko called on the current Verkhovna Rada to appoint new judges to the Constitutional Court, a move blocked by lawmakers for months. "I recognize that from 1 January, according to the Verkhovna Rada's decision, a new constitution is in place. But I do not consider it ideal," the president noted. JM
...AND DECLARES 'NATIONAL REFORMS' IN 2006. President Yushchenko pledged in his 23 January address to introduce "national reforms" in the health, education, and agricultural sectors as well as in the judiciary. Yushchenko also stressed that Ukraine's foreign-policy priorities remain unchanged, adding that EU membership is the main strategic goal for Ukraine. "I hope that a new parliament will invigorate work for bringing Ukrainian legislation in line with European norms and standards. This will accelerate Ukraine's advance toward the EU and NATO," he added. JM
UKRAINE DENIES STEALING RUSSIAN GAS. Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov on 23 January admitted that Ukraine has considerably increased gas consumption of late because of the cold weather, but stressed that the country continues to fulfill its obligations regarding he transit of Russian gas to Europe, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "Ukraine has consumed 407 million cubic meters of gas over the past 24 hours. This is a record-high figure and, to tell you the truth, our Russian partners are rather nervous about that," Yekhanurov told journalists. Ukraine was using some 280 million cubic meters per day at the start of the year when temperatures were milder. "I am grateful to Gazprom for their understanding of this situation caused by the considerable drop in temperatures and that it allowed the increase of daily consumption limits for Ukraine," Yekhanurov added, effectively denying Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Medvedev's accusation earlier the same day that Ukraine was withholding some Russian gas meant for other European countries. JM
U.S. RESTORES TRADE BENEFITS FOR UKRAINE. U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman announced on 23 January that the United States has reinstated Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) benefits for Ukraine, international and Ukrainian media reported. Ukraine lost these benefits in 2001 after Washington found the country guilty of failing to protect intellectual-property rights, particularly computer software as well as films and music recorded on compact discs. "I commend the government of Ukraine for its sustained efforts to crack down on copyright piracy and urge the government to continue their efforts," Portman commented. The GSP provides preferential duty-free entry to approximately 3,000 products from designated beneficiary countries and territories. In 2002 Washington imposed 100 percent tariff sanctions on $75 million worth of Ukrainian exports to the United States. JM
RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team.
CRIMEA LIGHTHOUSE BECOMES ANOTHER BUMP IN RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA. Port authorities in Yalta, Crimea, on 13 January took over a lighthouse that had been used thus far by Russia's Black Sea Fleet. The takeover has provoked a diplomatic squabble between Moscow and Kyiv and drawn public attention in both countries to the Russian military presence in Ukraine. The rekindled controversy over the deployment of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, apart from spawning diplomatic wrangles, may also have meaningful economic and political repercussions.
Moscow reacted to the takeover of the lighthouse with angry statements from government and military officials who described the Ukrainian move as a "seizure" of the Black Sea Fleet's property and demanded that it be immediately returned to the Russian Navy.
Kyiv responded that the lighthouse, as one of the "hydrographic installations" used by the Russian Navy in Ukraine, does not belong to Russia. Of the 101 "hydrographic installations" used by the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the 1990s, Ukraine now has 66 under its control.
Both sides quote the same document -- the intergovernmental agreement on the deployment of the Black Sea Fleet of 28 May 1997 -- to support their arguments.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who suggested earlier this month that Russian sailors in Crimea should defend their property with arms, has no doubt as to Russia's right to use the disputed lighthouse: "The sea navigation facilities of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, part of which is stationed on Ukrainian territory, in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, were each specifically mentioned in a special section of the 1997 basic agreement, including the Yalta lighthouse. So, when Ukraine says that this lighthouse is not mentioned anywhere, it is not true."
But the truth hidden within the mentioned "special section" of the 1997 agreement may be difficult to decipher.
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 January quoted a part of the so-called Addendum No. 2 to the 1997 agreement, in which the Yalta lighthouse is mentioned under the codename Ya-13. But Ya-13, along with other facilities, is designated in the addendum for joint use by Ukraine and Russia. The addendum also stipulates that a definitive list of facilities in use by the Russian Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory is to be approved by a separate intergovernmental accord. Such an accord, however, has never been concluded.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vasyl Filipchuk obfuscated the row by asserting that the codename Ya-13 cannot refer to the Yalta lighthouse, since, Filipchuk explained, Addendum No. 2 lists exclusively naval facilities in Sevastopol, which is 80 kilometers away from Yalta. Filipchuk also admitted that Kyiv does not know what Ya-13 stands for.
And Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko said both sides, in order to clarify the whole controversy, need to take a clear-cut stock of facilities that are used by the Russians: "We have to make a proper inventory, finally. We assume that the Russian side is also interested in this and we hope we will meet no obstacles in this regard. Otherwise, Russia will be obviously violating its obligations."
Kyiv began to publicize its demand for making a "proper inventory" of Black Sea Fleet facilities in December 2005, after Moscow signaled its intention to increase its price for gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006. Some Ukrainian politicians suggested that Kyiv could use the rent for the lease of naval installations to Russia as a bargaining chip in talks on the price of Russian gas.
Under the 1997 agreement, Russia's fleet is to remain in Crimea until 2017 for a lease rent equal to $98 million annually. Ukraine does not receive this payment in cash -- the rent is just entered in the books as an item reducing Ukraine's state debt to Russia.
Some Ukrainian media speculated last year that the rent Russia nominally pays to Ukraine for the deployment of the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea is just a fraction of the sum that the fleet's commanders purportedly charge for subleasing the land and facilities they use to private businesses, including tourist agencies. Crimea is a coveted recreation place for the whole post-Soviet area, and every hectare of land there is of great value.
Fleet reportedly uses 18,000 hectares of land in Crimea. The Student Brotherhood, a Ukrainian organization that staged several pickets in Crimea earlier this month against what it sees as an unlawful use of Ukrainian land and facilities by the Russian Navy, estimates that the country's budget could gain as much as $3 billion annually if Ukraine took over the controversial possessions from Russia.
In short, there is popular feeling in Ukraine that the country suffers economic losses because of its current arrangement with Russia regarding the Black Sea Fleet.The row over the Yalta lighthouse has apparent political implications as well.
It is not clear whether the takeover of the Yalta lighthouse was inspired from Kyiv or was just a local initiative.
Some cynics have mischievously said that the takeover was staged exclusively by the Yalta port authorities. They say the authorities could not tolerate any longer the fact that the Black Sea Fleet was reluctant to share profits from its supposed commercial activities with them.
But it seems that the Russian-Ukrainian diplomatic quarrel and the publicity around it is now playing into the hands of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who has not taken any steps to quell the developing conflict.
Yushchenko's political position has become very shaky in the wake of a controversial gas deal with Russia on 4 January, under which Ukraine is obliged to pay nearly twice as much for Russian gas supplies in 2006 as it did last year. Yushchenko's erstwhile ally, Yuliya Tymoshenko, even went as far as to accuse the government of betraying national interests in the gas deal.
Therefore, one can hardly expect Yushchenko to show "weakness" toward Russia once again and back down on the lighthouse takeover in the ongoing campaign for the 26 March parliamentary elections. As many times in Ukraine's 15 years of independence, the country's relations with Russia have become a hot issue that may have a considerable impact on the array of political forces after the elections. (Jan Maksymiuk)
EU LAUDS TEMPORARY RESOLUTION OF MOLDOVA-RUSSIA GAS DISPUTE. The European Commission on 17 January welcomed news that Moldova and Russia have reached a temporary settlement in their dispute over gas prices. Although the EU remained neutral in the spat, a commission spokeswoman announced it will be sending an expert to evaluate the security of Moldova's energy supplies, for which the country is heavily dependent on Russia.
Although Brussels warmly welcomed the deal between Russia and Moldova today, officials were well aware that it does not guarantee ultimate closure to the issue.
Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, a European Commission spokeswoman, emphasized in her comments the fact that longer-term talks between Moscow and Chisinau continue.
"The commission does indeed welcome the fact that an agreement has been reached between Russia and Moldova on [the] delivery of gas, and the fact that after being without gas from Russia since the 1st of January the gas has now been turned back on, that is a very welcome development," Ahrenkilde Hansen said. "We understand that in the meantime negotiations will continue with the aim of finding a final settlement, but the deal is there and we welcome it."
Under the deal, for the next four months Moldova will pay $110 for 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas -- $30 more per 1,000 cubic meters than it paid last year. What happens when that deal runs out is an open question.
Russia also increased its share in Moldova's gas monopoly Moldovagaz to 64 percent.
Russian gas deliveries -- amounting to 245,000 million cubic meters last year -- had been blocked since 1 January. To cover the shortfall, Moldova purchased gas from Ukraine's reserves.
Ahrenkilde Hansen said the EU will continue to "follow developments closely."
She also said the European Commission will dispatch an energy expert to Moldova on 18 January to review the overall energy situation there "from the perspective of security of supply."
Ahrenkilde Hansen said the expert will conduct a "very general evaluation," looking at the possibility of Moldova joining the energy treaty signed between the EU and countries in southeastern Europe on 25 October. The treaty is intended to create a single space in the countries, and to extend to them EU-relevant legislation and standards. One of the avowed aims of the treaty is the diversification of energy supply.
Ahrenkilde Hansen stressed that the EU is not taking sides in the energy disputes that have flared up between Russia and its neighbors.
"That's not what our expert mission is about," Ahrenkilde Hansen said. "We do consider that negotiations between Moldova and Russia are a bilateral matter and indeed it would not be appropriate for us to get directly involved in the negotiations."
An EU official -- who requested anonymity -- said the EU expert will come up with an assessment of Moldova's energy needs after speaking to "everyone involved" locally. The official said the EU is looking into what it can do to alleviate the situation -- the obvious point of which in the longer term is to reduce Moldova's dependence on Russia.
Another EU expert visited Moldova in December. EU officials stress both that and the current mission were requested by Chisinau under the terms of its EU Neighborhood Policy agreement, which has a provision relating to energy cooperation.
The first expert examined Moldova's request for EU aid to build three new electricity lines from Romania. EU officials did not comment on that project today. (Ahto Lobjakas)
"RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report" is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.