WASHINGTON Dec 11 Moscow might be willing to
give Ukraine relief on the price of natural gas it imports from
Russia if Kiev granted better terms for the Russian naval fleet
in Ukraine's Crimea, a senior Russian official said on
The official said it was difficult to envision granting
Kiev's wish for a lowering of gas prices without Ukraine joining
a regional customs union led by Russia.
But he said it might be possible "if they provide something
which is real, about the Crimea and our navy there," the
official told a group of reporters.
Ukraine is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and any
easing of the price it pays for the Russian gas its
export-dependent economy relies on could be a big help. The
nation's reliance on gas from Russia gives Moscow great leverage
as it vies for influence over the former Soviet Republic in
competition with the European Union.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich last month walked away
from a free trade deal with the EU in favor of maintaining close
ties with Moscow. The move sparked a political crisis in
Ukraine, with protesters who want to see more integration with
Europe pushing for Yanukovich's resignation.
Protesters stood their ground on Wednesday at the Kiev city
hall after an overnight sweep by riot police.
The official noted that Ukraine agreed in 2010 to extend the
period of time in which Russia's Black Sea fleet could stay in
Sevastopol on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in return for a
lowering of gas prices.
"Maybe if they suggest better terms for our fleet, why not,"
he said of the possibility of a fresh deal.
He also said Moscow would be willing to extend loans to
Ukraine if they were secured by manufacturing facilities that
are important to Russia's defense.
"If they are ready to sell it and maybe to use it as the
security for the loan, we will take it. And we will provide the
loan then," he said.
(Reporting by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Philip Barbara)