KIEV The European Union must help Ukraine solve its gas row with Russia, which has led to a supply cut, or face a tougher stance from Moscow on energy security and other issues, a Ukrainian presidential aide told Reuters Sunday.
Oleksander Shlapak, first deputy chief of staff of President Viktor Yushchenko, also said Gazprom's proposal that Ukraine pay $418 per 1,000 cubic meters is "utter nonsense." Gazprom has since raised its price to $450.
Russia switched off supplies to Ukraine on January 1 after the two ex-Soviet neighbors failed to agree on a 2009 contract.
The dispute is now more serious than a similar one at the start of 2006, when Russia cut supplies for a day, shocking the European Union and prompting accusations from some Western politicians that Moscow bullies its Western-leaning neighbors.
"Europe talks of real gas blackmail from the Russian side. Today, the front of that blackmail has moved to Ukraine," Shlapak told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"If Europe does not understand that and does not help us get out of this situation, then it can expect a more aggressive position from Russia on gas and other issues," he said.
Shlapak said the chiefs of Ukraine's state energy company Naftogaz and Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom, Oleh Dubyna and Alexei Miller, have talked on the phone every day and confirmed Naftogaz received an invitation to go to Moscow.
"But at the same time (Miller) says that their position has not changed. So, I don't understand the point of going," he said.
He said if the two sides do not agree on a new contract soon, there could be "another phase in the conflict."
Russia has already accused Ukraine of stealing gas meant for Europe, while Naftogaz answered that it is using some of that gas to keep the pipeline operational by maintaining pressure.
"The key explanation from Dubyna is that they want 315 mcm coming in (to Ukraine) and 315 mcm coming out without spending a single penny on paying for the transit and on top of that they accuse us of stealing gas," he said.
"I am convinced that this was their aim -- to force us to take gas from the pipelines and make it out that we are unreliable partners and to shift Europeans away from us," he said.
Ukraine says it could pay $250 per 1,000 cubic meters (tcm) -- the same as an initial Gazprom proposal -- but only if the fees Russia pays for transporting gas supplies to Europe were raised to $4 per tcm for 100 km from $1.7.
(Writing by Sabina Zawadzki and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Charles Dick)