BERLIN, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Political infighting in Ukraine ahead of a presidential election in January is holding up Kiev’s payments for Russian gas, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview with German weekly magazine Der Spiegel.
Medvedev placed the blame for frosty relations between the two former Soviet republics squarely on the shoulders of President Viktor Yushchenko and said he hoped a new leader would be more “pragmatic” in relations with Moscow.
European gas consumers are hoping to avoid a repeat of last January’s row between Moscow and Kiev, which resulted in a two-week mid-winter disruption of Russian gas supplies through Ukraine -- a route that carries a fifth of Europe’s gas needs.
Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a front runner in the Jan. 17 election, said on Friday Ukraine had great difficulty in paying a $500 million October gas bill because of obstacles placed by the president and the central bank. [ID:nL6559554].
Her comments reflect a similar charge made by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in October. [ID:nLU635960]
“In my view, (the payment problem) is linked to the election campaign in Ukraine, where one power harms another in an attempt to score political points,” Medvedev said in an advance copy of the interview released on Saturday.
Ukraine’s central bank and the president’s office have said International Monetary Fund cash will be used to pay for the gas.
Medvedev has accused Yushchenko of anti-Russian policies.
The Ukrainian president, swept to power in the 2004 “Orange Revolution”, has angered Moscow by his desire for Ukrainian membership of NATO and insistence that Russia vacate its centuries-old navy base in the Crimea.
“We have some harsh polemic, but not between our societies and certainly not between our states as a whole. Speaking openly, this polemic, or all these difficulties, concern only one person -- the current president of Ukraine,” Medvedev said.
“I hope our Ukrainian friends find stability quickly, and it will become easier for both Russia and a united Europe to work.”
Yushchenko has low ratings and is expected to fall in the first round of elections. Tymoshenko’s main challenger is former prime minister Viktor Yanukovich -- a Moscow-backed candidate in the 2004 election and main loser of the “Orange Revolution”. (Writing by Robin Paxton in Moscow and Sabina Zawadzki in Kiev; editing by Andrew Roche)
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