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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.
TURKMENISTAN'S PRICE DEMANDS IMPERIL MOSCOW-KYIV GAS DEAL. Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko was in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi last week when he commented on a decision by the Turkmen leadership to raise the price of natural gas. But his words may have had the greatest impact all the way back in Kyiv, where they came as a grim reminder Ukraine's gas woes are far from over.
To backtrack -- Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov, otherwise known as Turkmenbashi, declared on 11 February that he intended to raise the price of natural gas from $65 to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters this autumn.
On 16 February, Khristenko said that decision meant a necessary adjustment in the prices Kyiv will pay for its gas supplies under the terms of the deal struck in January by Russia and Ukraine, ending a pricing dispute that saw temporary shutoffs in supplies of Russian gas not only to Ukraine but to a livid Western Europe as well.
Under the deal, Ukraine this year is to receive 34 billion cubic meters for $95 per 1,000 cubic meters from an intermediary, RosUkrEnergo, which in turn will purchase gas from Russia's Gazprom as well as from Turkmenistan, which accounts for nearly one-half of Ukraine's deliveries from Russia.
But "everything is changing," Interfax cited Khristenko as saying. "And even the fixed-price formula for RosUkrEnergo may fluctuate depending on the situation on the market."
"Niyazov's position is predictable," Khristenko said. If Turkmenistan raises the gas price, he continued, the gas price formula for Ukraine will necessarily change as well.
The developments prompted a Ukrainian delegation comprising Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov and Naftohaz Ukrayiny head Oleksandr Ivchenko -- who negotiated the January accord with Russia's Gazprom and RusUkrEnergo -- to travel on 17 February to Turkmenistan in hopes of clarifying the situation.
From Kiyv's point of view, the gas deal left a lot to be desired. The terms are set for only the first six months of 2006, and questions about RosUkrEnergo and its shadowy role as middleman in the gas delivery chain have lent even greater uncertainty to the fate of the highly criticized accord.
Speaking in Madrid on 7 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted that Ukraine, not Russia, insisted on keeping RosUkrEnergo in the deal. But subsequent statements by officials in Ukraine appear to indicate the opposite.John Herbst, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, on 16 February criticized the inclusion of the middleman company.
"RosUkrEnergo is a suspicious organization, and it is difficult to understand why it plays such a significant role in such an important agreement," Herbst said, according to Ukrinform. Herbst's statement was the latest in a series of critical remarks made by U.S. officials about the company in recent weeks.
His remarks echoed those of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who said in a 14 February statement that he shared the concern of the European Union and other international organizations regarding the "scarcity of information" about RosUkrEnergo and its partial owner, Raffeisen Investments.
Interfax the same day cited the president as indicating that all attempts by Ukraine to receive necessary information about RosUkrEnergo had been "fruitless."
Appearing 16 February on Ukraine's Channel 5 television, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said Kyiv is ready to bypass RosUkrEnergo and sign gas contracts directly with Gazprom, but added it cannot do so without Moscow's consent.
Yekhanurov added that he has sent a letter to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov informing him of this. But Khristenko, in his remarks in Vietnam, described RosUkrEnergo as a "sufficiently transparent" company and said there was no need to drop it from the existing deal," Interfax reported.
The situation has been regulated," Khristenko said. "The agreements that have been reached were based on the stipulation that RosUkrEnergo would be the trader working with the primary supplies of Central Asian gas, and a structure that could position itself on both the Ukrainian and Western markets."
"The structure," he added, "is sufficiently transparent." (Roman Kupchinsky)
"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.
...AS INCUMBENT PRESIDENT WAIVES ELECTION SPOT ON TV. President Lukashenka on 21 February gave up his right to a 30-minute television appearance offered for his reelection campaign, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Belarusian Television's Channel 1 was expected to air Lukashenka's prerecorded address to voters immediately after Haydukevich's campaign appearance. Instead, the channel broadcast an episode of a documentary series, called "The Theory of Conspiracy," about political revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine. JM
CRIMEAN LEGISLATURE SETS REFERENDUM ON RUSSIAN LANGUAGE FOR 26 MARCH. The Crimean Supreme Council on 22 February decided to stage a local consultative referendum on giving Russian the "status of a second state language" in the peninsula, Interfax-Ukraine reported. The plebiscite is to be held on 26 March, simultaneously with the parliamentary elections. The motion was supported by 53 deputies in the 100-seat Crimean legislature. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Justice Ministry has announced that giving state status to a language belongs to the so-called constitutional-system issues in Ukraine and cannot be resolved in a local referendum, but requires a nationwide plebiscite. The Crimean Prosecutor's Office has immediately said it will appeal against the parliamentary resolution on the referendum. The Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych collected more than 300,000 signatures in support of this referendum in Crimea. JM
UKRAINE REJECTS TURKMEN CLAIM OVER GAS DEBT. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk on 21 February rejected Turkmenistan's claim voiced last week that Kyiv owns Ashgabat $158.9 million for gas deliveries in 2004-05, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Tarasyuk said Ukraine's debt Is considerably smaller, adding that Turkmenistan is trying to break the contract it signed with Ukraine for gas deliveries, because it is unable to fulfill its terms. Foreign Ministry spokesman Vasyl Filipchuk said the same day that Ukraine owes Turkmenistan $77 million for past gas deliveries and that the reason for the holdup in payment were constant delays by the Turkmen customs service in processing Ukrainian goods sent to Ashgabat as barter payment for gas. Filipchuk added that despite an existing contract for 2006 gas deliveries, which Ukraine has prepaid in the sum of $88 million, "not one cubic meter of Turkmen gas contracted for sale to Ukraine has reached the Turkmen-Uzbek border." Ukraine is prepared to turn to Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce in its dispute with Turkmenistan over gas deliveries, Naftohaz Ukrayiny head Oleksiy Ivchenko told Interfax-Ukraine on 22 February. Ivchenko suggested that Turkmenistan's refusal to ship gas that had been prepaid by Ukraine in January 2006 was linked to Saparmurat Niyazov's threat to raise the price of gas from $50 per 1,000 cubic meters for the first six months of 2006 and $60 in the second half, to $100. RK