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Germany, Ukraine want to modernise gas pipelines

BERLIN, Aug 30 (Reuters) - Germany and Ukraine want to work together to modernise gas pipelines in the former Soviet satellite state, the two countries’ leaders said on Monday.

At a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the two countries would launch a business forum this autumn as a platform for the expansion of energy ties and German investment.

“In particular, the possibility should be discussed of how and to what extent Germany can play a constructive role in the restructuring of the Ukrainian gas market,” Merkel said.

Ukraine runs the main transit route for Russian gas headed to Europe, and Kiev and Moscow have a history of gas pricing disputes that have disrupted European supplies.

However, those disputes took place amid badly strained relations between the Kremlin and Ukraine’s pro-Western former President Viktor Yushchenko.

Yanukovich, who has tilted foreign policy sharply back towards Russia since taking office, said he had proposed certain plans to Merkel, but did not mention specifics.

“Ukraine wants to be, and will be, a dependable partner for both Russia, a gas supplier, and Europe, an end user,” he said.

It was in Europe’s interest to help modernise the pipelines in order to gain influence over their use, he added.

Yanukovich says that taking Ukraine into the European mainstream is the focus of his foreign policy. (Reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann and Brian Rohan; Editing by Jon Boyle)