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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Putin Says Kiev Imperiling Gas Flows

06 March 2009 - The Moscow Times by Anatoly Medetsky - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin harshly accused Ukrainian officials on Thursday of jeopardizing transit of Russian natural gas to Europe by ordering raids on Ukraine's national energy company. But Putin, speaking at a regular meeting of the Presidium, a trimmed-down Cabinet, was conspicuously silent about a proposal by President Dmitry Medvedev a day earlier to rewrite the government's anti-crisis plan in simpler terms. The subject of Ukraine -- where the National Security Service attempted to raid the national energy company Naftogaz Ukrainy for the second straight day -- featured prominently during routine reports on current affairs from the ministers. Putin bristled after Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said Gazprom was unable to get in touch with the Ukrainian company for an update on the situation and had to rely on news media reports. "That's deplorable and very unfortunate," Putin said. He went on to say that if Naftogaz failed to pay for February deliveries by the end of Saturday, Gazprom would have to halt supplies to Ukraine. A seizure by the Ukrainian security service of the transit contract that Naftogaz signed with Gazprom would cause the disruption of Europe-bound transit, Putin warned. "We are drawing the attention of the European Commission and all our customers in the European countries to that," Putin said. "Of course, what is happening now in Ukraine once again raises the issue of this country's reliability as a partner in solving energy problems." Moscow and Kiev have long sparred over gas trade and transit, suspending them for half of January before reaching an agreement in the face of a furious European Union. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Thursday that another disruption would damage relations between the 27-nation bloc and Russia and Ukraine. But Putin's stern warnings fizzled just hours after he spoke. Gazprom confirmed receiving full payment for February supplies from Naftogaz late Thursday afternoon. The amount was $360 million. The first deputy chief of Ukraine's National Security Service, Valery Khoroshkovsky, rebutted reports that security agents wanted to seize the original copies of any contracts. "It's absolutely untrue," he told reporters late Thursday. Naftogaz and Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchynov said Wednesday that the originals of the contracts with Gazprom were what the security service was after. Khoroshkovsky denied Thursday that the security service's raid could have prevented Naftogaz from paying Gazprom, saying the agency didn't block Naftogaz' accounts. Security service investigators attempted to enter the headquarters of a Naftogaz subsidiary on Thursday morning to seize additional documents, but they retreated after being denied access. Naftogaz said a Kiev court suspended the investigation Wednesday until at least March 17. Masked and armed National Security Service agents raided Naftogaz headquarters on Wednesday as part of an investigation into the company's acquisition of natural gas claimed by trader RosUkrEnergo. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said Naftogaz did nothing wrong. It bought the gas from Gazprom under a contract that Tymoshenko brokered to end the supply and transit conflict in January, she said. The investigation came as Tymoshenko and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who controls the security service, continued dueling in the run-up to presidential elections expected in less than a year. Both are expected to run. In other news from the Presidium, Putin urged his ministers to do their job faster in fighting the economic crisis. Medvedev criticized the government last month for moving too slowly. "All ministries and government agencies must sharply speed up their work and learn to make the necessary decisions in a more prompt manner," Putin said. "If a measure has been announced, it is unacceptable to delay its practical implementation." Putin, however, did not comment on Medvedev's more recent proposal to the government to come up with a new anti-crisis plan that would be understandable not only to officials but also to the man on the street.

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