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Russia-Ukraine gas dispute remains unsettled


MOSCOW, December 20 (RIA Novosti) - After natural gas talks with the Russian prime minister the day before brought no solution to the gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said Tuesday his country would survive without Russian gas and urged it should focus on the development of energy saving technology.

Yekhanurov said at a news conference in Kiev that Ukraine produced 20 billion cu m of its own natural gas and bought about 36 billion from the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan in Central Asia. The country also receives 17 billion cu m of natural gas from Russia as payment for transit services and buys another 6-8 billion from Russia "for balance", he said, adding the former two sources of gas could be enough.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko echoed the premier's statement, saying Ukraine's ongoing dispute with Russia over the price of natural gas supplies and transit via Ukrainian territory should not be overdramatized.

He said there should be clear logic behind the new pricing system and demanded the principles of pricing should be the same for Ukraine and other former Soviet republics importing Russian natural gas, such as Georgia, Belarus, and Estonia.

However, Sergei Kupriyanov, the press secretary to the chief executive of Russian energy giant Gazprom, said Tuesday that the Ukrainian government should have discussed changes in Russia's gas pricing system earlier.

Yekhanurov said Ukraine was waiting for a set of documents on cooperation in the natural gas sector from Russia, whereas Gazprom replied that all the necessary documents on the terms of gas prices had been sent to Ukraine.

"Our exhaustive proposals both on the draft inter-governmental protocol for 2006 and on the drafts of two contracts - on natural gas transit and supplies - were reliably sent to the Ukrainian government and [national gas company] Naftogaz Ukrainy," Gazprom Deputy Chairman Alexander Medvedev said. He referred to Article 2 of the October 4, 2001 agreement for 2003-2013 between Russia and Ukraine, which says the volumes of Russian gas transit via Ukraine and transit payments were to be specified in annual intergovernmental protocols for a specific period.

Few days remain before the previous agreement expires on January 1, but the terms of gas deliveries and transit are still unclear.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a meeting with his Czech counterpart Tuesday: "I am sure that the good tradition of Gazprom and Russia fulfilling their obligations to European consumers will continue to be observed."

Russia wants Ukraine to pay the market price, $220-$230 per 1,000 cu m, for natural gas it supplies to the country. In the past five years, Ukraine has been buying Russian gas for a preferential price of $50 per 1,000 cu m.

Last week, the Ukrainian leader said Ukraine was ready to pay market prices if the increase were gradual, but Gazprom dismissed the proposal, saying it was unclear who would make up for the losses incurred in the transitional period.

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