* Ukraine eyes cheaper Turkmen gas, offers to ship it to
* Russia owns pipelines, will have a final say
* Ukraine energy minister evades talk of Moscow's role
By Marat Gurt
ASHGABAT, Feb 13 Ukraine on Wednesday started
talks with Turkmenistan on resuming imports of its natural gas
to ease a dependence on expensive Russian supply, but any deal
would need the consent of Moscow which owns the pipeline.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich is visiting the
Central Asian nation after Kiev failed to renegotiate its gas
deal with Moscow.
Ukraine cut imports from Russia last year, but that strategy
backfired last month when Moscow sent Kiev a $7 billion bill for
the gas it had refused to buy, citing a "take or pay" clause.
"I have reiterated Ukraine's interest in resuming natural
gas imports from Turkmenistan, as well as our readiness to
deepen cooperation in this sphere," Yanukovich told reporters
after talks with his Turkmen counterpart Kurbanguly
"Our country has every opportunity to unite efforts to work
out alternative routes of gas shipments both for our own needs
and for further exports to Europe."
Turkmenistan, which holds the world's fourth largest natural
gas reserves, sold its gas to Ukraine in the 1990s and until the
mid-2000s via Russian pipelines. But since 2006 Ukraine had been
buying increasingly expensive gas only from Russia's gas export
Landlocked Turkmenistan has won support of the European
Union and the United States for its plans to build a pipeline
across the Caspian Sea to ship gas to Europe, and for another
pipeline to run to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan.
However, these projects exist only on paper. Analysts point
to serious security risks for the India-bound pipeline which
would have to cross chronically unstable Afghanistan.
Ukraine's state oil and gas company Naftogaz signed on
Wednesday a memorandum of understanding with Turkmenistan's Oil
and Gas Ministry, Ukrainian Energy and Fuel Minister Eduard
Stavytsky told reporters in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat.
"Certainly, the talk was about the resumption of Turkmen gas
supplies," he said. "We have a pipeline running across northern
Turkmenistan and via Russia. So that's what we were talking
Asked how Russia would react to such plans, Stavytsky
retorted: "Let's first reach an agreement with our colleagues
from Turkmenistan, and then we will negotiate with the others."
Ukrainian officials say that a new free trade agreement
signed last year by the Commonwealth of Independent States, a
club of post-Soviet republics, obliges Russia to allow shipments
of Turkmen gas to Ukraine at competitive rates.
Moscow has yet to comment on the idea. It has repeatedly
voiced its opposition to Turkmenistan's plans to build a
Europe-bound pipeline across the Caspian Sea, citing ecological
Turkmenistan has two other gas pipelines: going to China and
to Iran. It hopes to more than triple gas production potential
to 250 billion cubic metres a year by 2030.
Output at the world's second-largest gas field, Galkynysh,
expected to start in a few months, is fundamental to that goal.
(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov, editing by William Hardy)