MOSCOW, January 25 (RIA Novosti) - The natural gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine showed signs of escalating again Wednesday, as announcements from the Ukrainian premier cast doubt on an agreement that was intended to resolve the spat, and as Russia announced its intention to charge its neighbor for siphoning off supplies bound for Europe.
In an exchange of statements on the issue, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said his country would not be able to find the funds to pay for a stake in a joint venture that was to have paved the way toward better relations, while the chief executive of Russian energy giant Gazprom said the company would increase daily supplies to its European customers even though Ukraine appeared to be tapping more and more gas to cope with the current cold snap.
Yekhanurov said Ukraine could not purchase a stake in RosUkrEnergo, thereby postponing the signing of a natural gas deal between Gazprom and Ukraine's national gas company Naftogaz.
"We do not plan to purchase shares in RosUkrEnergo," the premier said. "We do not have the money for this."
RosUkrEnergo, a Swiss-based company that transports Central Asian natural gas to Ukraine via Russia, is owned half by Gazprom subsidiary Gazprombank, and half by Austrian bank Raiffeisen. However, but the identity of its ultimate owners is unclear. Russia wants Naftogaz to participate in the joint venture in the interests of company transparency.
Yekhanurov told a Cabinet session: "It looks as if the contract will not be signed today." However, he said consultations with Gazprom would continue.
Gazprom said it hoped to overcome the differences in approaches between the sides, and sign documents to establish the joint venture.
Yekhanurov's comments are the latest twist in a bitter dispute over prices for gas delivered by Gazprom. The Russian energy giant cut off supplies to Ukraine on January 1 after negotiations on new prices ended in failure. Gazprom wanted Ukraine to pay a market price for gas supplied, while Ukraine wanted to retain a barter agreement under which it received gas at a discount.
After Gazprom turned off the taps to Ukraine, the company said a shortfall had been registered in gas arriving at European destinations via three pipelines through Ukrainian territory. The dispute was officially settled with a new price agreement on January 4.
In a follow-up of the incident, Russian Industry and Energy Ministry Viktor Khristenko quoted Gazprom as saying that it would bill Ukraine for gas tapping.
"The financial consequences [of gas tapping] are absolutely clear," he said.
Khristenko urged Ukraine to limit its domestic electricity consumption, rather than trying to solve its domestic energy shortage problem by taking from its neighbors, in particular Poland, which has been equally hit by the freezing weather.
Yekhanurov conceded Wednesday that his country had been using more natural gas than usual recently because of the unusually low temperatures.
"We have reached a consumption level of 427 million cubic meters per day, including 161 million cu m for consumer purposes," Yekhanurov said. "That is 70 million cu m more than previously."
Ukraine consumed 568 million cu m of natural gas in the last 24 hours alone, he said, adding that the government had instructed regional authorities to reduce gas consumption, and was considering shutting down industrial facilities to save energy.
He also said Europe had expressed understanding over the difficult energy situation in Russia and Ukraine caused by the recent freeze.
"We do not have problems with Europe," the Ukrainian prime minister said responding to rumors of European criticism over shortfalls in natural gas supplies due to excessive gas consumption by Ukraine. "The problems are being created by those who want to wage a new round of information wars."
Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said the company would increase natural gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine, despite its alleged gas siphoning.
"We have been increasing gas supplies on the Russian-Ukrainian border daily, despite the complicated situation," Miller said.