KIEV Aug 14 Ukraine's parliament approved a law
on Thursday to allow gas transit facilities to be leased on a
joint venture basis with participation from firms in the
European Union or United States.
Ukraine will hold 51 percent and foreign partners will be
offered 49 percent in the venture, which would manage both
transit pipelines and underground gas storage facilities.
The law was backed by 228 deputies, only two votes more than
the minimum necessary for the adoption of the bill.
Suffering a third cut-off of natural gas supplies from
Russia in under nine years, and with political relations in
crisis, Ukraine is desperate to become less dependent on Russian
gas, but at the same time to provide more reliable transit for
the Russian gas that Europe needs.
The government has said the joint venture will bring in
investment and remove the need for the South Stream pipeline,
which Russia's Gazprom is building to take gas to
southeastern Europe across the Black Sea, avoiding Ukraine.
Gazprom was not immediately available to comment.
If South Stream is built, it threatens to deprive Ukraine's
badly strained budget of the transit fees that it currently
receives from Russia for gas heading towards Europe.
The EU imports 30 percent of its natural gas needs from
Russia, and about half of that comes via Ukraine, with some
already having been diverted through the Nord Stream pipeline
under the Baltic Sea.
Its supplies were briefly cut off in 2006 and 2009 when
Ukraine argued with Russia about the price of its gas.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said last week
that Kiev could impose sanctions against Russian companies and
individuals who support separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Gazprom, the only company which carries Russian gas to
Europe through Ukraine, could also become a subject of Ukrainian
sanctions. But Ukraine's state-run firm
Naftogaz, which now controls the country's gas grid, said this
week that sanctions against Russia would not necessarily target
"The adoption of the sanctions law will not lead
automatically to sanctions against any entity, including
Gazprom. The law simply establishes the legal right to implement
them," Naftogaz said in a statement on Wednesday.
However, the Ukrainian company recommended European firms,
which import Russian gas, consider revising gas contracts with
Gazprom and buying Russian gas at the Ukrainian-Russian border.
European companies currently buy gas from Russia on the
western border between the European Union and Ukraine.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Alessandra Prentice;
Editing by Richard Balmforth and David Evans)