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Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute remains unsettled

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MOSCOW, December 27 (RIA Novosti) - Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov will arrive in Moscow December 28 to hold talks on natural gas in an attempt to bring the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute to a close, the Ukrainian presidential press service said Tuesday.

President Viktor Yushchenko "stands for the liberalization of prices of Russian [natural] gas transit and supplies" and believes that "the formula for these prices should be based on the European approach," the press service said.

Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said Tuesday that Russia's proposal to sell natural gas to Ukraine for $220-$230 per 1,000 cubic meters remained unchanged.

"Russia has presented its proposals to Ukraine," the minister said. "We have sent draft agreements and contracts related to the export and transit of natural gas. Russia will not make any other proposals."

He denied Ukraine's statements that Moscow had agreed on a gradual transition to market prices for natural gas. "Allegations made yesterday and today that Russia was ready for gradual transition to market prices for natural gas [supplied to Ukraine] contradict reality," Khristenko said.

Earlier some media reported that Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov had said Russia had agreed to the Ukrainian price proposal of $80 per 1,000 cu m for the first quarter of 2006.

Sergei Kupriyanov, a spokesman for Russian energy giant Gazprom, said that if Ukraine started tapping Russian natural gas in 2006, the company would consider it theft.

"No document gives Ukraine the right to tap transited [natural] gas after January 1," Kupriyanov said, commenting on Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov's statement that Ukraine is entitled to tap 15% of the natural gas pumped through its territory.

"This is an irresponsible and...illiterate statement that aims to aggravate Ukrainian relations and undermine the European community's trust in Ukraine as a transit country," he said.

A 2001 Russian-Ukrainian intergovernmental agreement on Russian natural gas transit via Ukraine stipulates both monetary payments and natural gas supplies in exchange for transit services. Under the agreement, the volumes of Russian gas transit via Ukraine and transit payments should be specified in annual intergovernmental protocols for a specific period.

"If a protocol for 2006 is not signed by the end of this year, all Ukraine's actions on tapping gas starting January 1, 2006 will be regarded as illegal," Kupriyanov said.

But Yekhanurov said Ukraine had the right to tap natural gas transited across its territory as payment.

"If 1,000 cu m of gas are pumped through the territory of Ukraine, we could use 150 cu m as payment for gas transit. This is a contract, a legal formula and our unconditional right. We take 15% of gas as payment for the transit of gas across our territory," Yekhanurov said.

Gazprom Deputy Board Chairman Alexander Medvedev said earlier that the company was ready to turn to the Stockholm arbitration court if Ukraine siphoned off Russian natural gas.

Russian and Ukrainian Presidents Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yushchenko discussed bilateral relations at the latter's initiative Tuesday but no details of the discussion have been released.

Putin's press secretary Alexei Gromov said there were currently no plans for a meeting between the two presidents.

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