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    Putin, Yushchenko to discuss energy, WTO, fleet, Turkmenistan

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    Russia's president will meet with his Ukrainian counterpart in Kiev Friday to discuss many sensitive issues that have overshadowed bilateral relations since the "orange revolution," an aide to Vladimir Putin said.

    MOSCOW, December 22 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's president will meet with his Ukrainian counterpart in Kiev Friday to discuss many sensitive issues that have overshadowed bilateral relations since the "orange revolution," an aide to Vladimir Putin said.

    Putin's second visit to Ukraine during Viktor Yushchenko's presidency is expected to highlight long-debated energy issues, the two countries' bids to join the World Trade Organization, Russia's Black Sea Fleet base in Ukraine, defense cooperation, and the situation in energy-rich Turkmenistan following the death of the Central Asian country's authoritarian leader.

    "They will discuss energy supplies to Ukrainian consumers, oil and gas transit [to Europe] via Ukraine, electricity cooperation, and nuclear power," presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko said.

    Ukraine is an important transit country for Russia's energy resources - 15% of Russian oil and more than 80% of its natural gas are pumped to Europe through Ukraine's pipelines.

    Prikhodko said the leaders were likely to discuss the situation in Turkmenistan, whose leader Saparmurat Niyazov died Thursday after more than 20 years in power.

    The dictator's death may affect energy supplies to Ukraine, which is currently importing a mixture of Russian and cheaper Turkmen natural gas for a price of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters. Russia and Ukraine still have to decide on the gas price for next year, and Turkmenistan said before Niyazov's death it would charge Ukraine $130 in 2007.

    The two leaders are also expected to highlight their countries' bids to join the WTO, Prikhodko said.

    "Vladimir Putin may discuss progress at negotiations on WTO accession, because we are interested to know the terms on which Ukraine is going to enter the organization," he said, adding that the two countries might conclude their multilateral negotiations for joining the world's largest trade body at about the same time.

    After a two-year slowdown, bilateral trade has reached $20 billion, having gained 19% in January-October year-on-year, Prikhodko said.

    Military and technological cooperation may also be on the agenda. Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement Monday to jointly manufacture two An-124 Condor heavy transport aircraft.

    The An-124 was designed by the Soviet Antonov aircraft design bureau in 1982. Its modified versions, the An-124-100 and An-124-100M-150, were manufactured by Russia's Ulyanovsk-based Aviastar-SP, and Antonov in Ukraine, until the mid-1990s. Currently no An-124s are being produced.

    Another issue to be addressed by the leaders is the deployment of the Russian Black Sea fleet in Ukraine's Crimean autonomy, which has proved a source of contention between the ex-Soviet neighbors.

    Since Western-leaning Yushchenko came to power on the back of the "orange revolution" in 2004, his government has sought to expel Russia's military from Ukrainian territory, which it saw as an obstacle for the country's ambition to join NATO and the European Union.

    Russia, which pays Ukraine $98 million a year in rent for the naval base, has cited bilateral agreements signed in the 1990s, which entitle its fleet to stay in Ukraine until 2017.

    After Viktor Yanukovych, who enjoyed Russia's support in the presidential race he lost to Yushchenko, was appointed premier in August, the two countries brokered a deal, and the Ukrainian president confirmed in late November that his country would adhere to bilateral agreements on Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

    Following their one-on-one talks, the presidents will lead their countries' delegations at a meeting of the Russia-Ukraine interstate commission.

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