KIEV, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko opposed calls to charge Russia more to pipe gas across the country to Europe, saying this would lead to a rise in the price Ukraine pays for imported gas for domestic use.
Yushchenko appeared to be responding to calls from government officials, politicians and news media to increase the fees. He said that to do so would be illogical, especially as the price Ukraine pays Russia for gas has climbed to almost $180 per 1,000 cubic metres from $50 in 2005.
Pricing disputes between Moscow and its ex-Soviet neighbours are closely watched by Europe, which gets a quarter of its gas from Russia with most of the supplies flowing through pipelines across Ukraine.
A row between Moscow and Kiev over prices in January 2006 led to a brief cut in gas supply to the European Union.
Russian media last week reported that the new head of Ukraine’s state energy firm, Naftogaz, was seeking to steeply raise the fees to $9.32 per 1,000 cubic metres across 100 km from $1.7 now.
Yushchenko said the amount Ukraine pays Russia for the transit of 55 billion cubic metres of Turkmen gas via 2,500 km of mostly Russian land for its domestic use is the same as Russia pays Ukraine for the transit of 127 billion cubic metres via 1,100 km of Ukrainian land.
If Ukraine were to raise its transit fees, Russia would have to raise the fees it charges Ukraine for the Turkmen gas — therefore upping the final price.
“For that reason, when I hear experts’ discussions, where someone is trying to make comparisons in tariff policies, to formulate logistics based on European tariff policies — this comes from a lack of knowledge,” Yushchenko said in a television interview late on Sunday,.
The new Naftogaz head, Oleh Dubyna, appointed by the new Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in December shortly after she formed her new government, was in Moscow last week for talks with Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM).
During her last premiership in 2005, Tymoshenko’s fiery rhetoric on corruption in the energy sector, perceived by Moscow as anti-Russian, caused relations between the two countries to worsen and contributed to a crisis that led to supply cuts.
She has long criticised the role of intermediary firm RosUkrEnergo, which is half controlled by Gazprom, saying it is opaque and increases the cost of gas transit. She wants Gazprom to deal directly with Naftogaz.
Russia has invited Tymoshenko for talks on Wednesday but her office would not confirm whether she would attend on that day, although she would visit Moscow soon, a spokeswoman said.
Yushchenko’s office confirmed on Monday that he would visit Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 12. (Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, editing by Anthony Barker)