MOSCOW. July 18. (RIA Novosti economic commentator Nina Kulikova).
At the weekend Russian company Gazprom and Naftogaz Ukrainy settled the issue of Russian gas, which was to have been exported to Europe but went "missing" on Ukrainian territory.
The "disappearance" of 7.8 billion cubic meters of Russian gas into Ukraine's underground gasometers has been debated for a long time. The problem mainly boils down to the fact that transportation of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine is not just a transit arrangement. It involves a huge pumping complex which earlier existed within the framework of the unified energy system of the Soviet Union. And for a period there was no separate record of Russian gas consumption in Ukraine.
The situation, when large amounts of Russian gas difficult to estimate precisely are constantly present in Ukraine, led to recurring irregularities from many sides. Moreover, Ukraine's indebtedness kept growing all the time. Ultimately Gazprom had to raise the question of providing a new technique for recording Russian raw materials transported to that country. When final calculations were made, it emerged that Ukraine must be storing 7.8 bcm of unpaid Russian gas. The Ukrainian side confirmed the fact, but the problem could not be solved for a long time.
Now at last things began moving. Gazprom and Naftogaz Ukrainy signed an agreement under which 2.55 bcm of gas will be counted by Gazprom as part payment for the transit of Russian gas. The remaining 5.25 bcm stored in Ukraine's underground gasometers were recategorised as Naftogaz debt to intermediary company RosUkrEnergo (a joint venture between Gazprombank and Austria's Raiffeisen Investment registered in Switzerland). Gazprom is to receive 800 million dollars from RosUkrEnergo, with Kiev to supply this gas to the venture in 2005-2006.
Experts view the agreement as quite positive for Russia. To begin with, Gazprom sold the 5.25 bcm at European prices (more than 150 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters), Second, it is as well that the agreement is brokered by an intermediary with Austrian participation. The agreement introduces a scheme when Russian interests in Ukraine are guaranteed by a company with an international standing.
The understanding achieved means that Ukraine not only acknowledges the fact of unlawful seizure of Russian gas, but also intends to compensate the Russian side for its loss. This is the first time that a debt has been technically qualified, and a mechanism of its clearing agreed. This holds out hope that gas relations between Russia and Ukraine will gradually take on civilised form. A Gazprom press-release notes that "the documents have been signed on mutually beneficial market terms and are the basis for long-term cooperation".
On the other hand, there are still many unclear points left. The press-release says that Russian gas transit across Ukraine will be increased by 8 bcm in 2005, compared with earlier planned volumes. Mikhail Delyagin, head of the Institute of Global Problems, says that what strikes the eye is the fact that transit is planned to rise by the same quantity of cubic meters as went missing. We would like to know why, he says.
Besides, the question remains how the Ukrainian government will be solving the problem of deficit in its gas balance if Gazprom goes over, as it promises, to paying for transit and gas deliveries to Ukraine at European prices. So the agreement, though very important, is likely to be temporary.