Tymoshenko Sees New Transparency

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Monday linked the recent arrest of suspected crime boss Semyon Mogilevich to the need to rid the gas trade between the two countries of murky middlemen.

The arrest comes ahead of planned talks between Tymoshenko and Russian officials in Moscow next month, in which she is expected to demand a better price for Ukraine's gas imports that arrive through a chain of intermediaries. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko will also hold talks in Moscow on Feb. 12.

"We don't need any shadowy intermediaries," Tymoshenko told reporters after talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels when asked about Mogilevich's arrest in Moscow last week. "There will be transparency in our government and society. It also concerns energy policy," she said.

Ukraine imports Central Asian gas via Russia through RosUkrEnergo, a joint company between Gazprom and Ukrainian businessmen Dmytro Firtash and Ivan Kursin. Tymoshenko has been advocating a removal of the gas trader from the supply chain, saying Ukraine should buy gas directly from Gazprom.

The Ukrainian Security Service, or SBU, in 2005 investigated RosUkrEnergo and its possible links to Mogilevich but was unable to complete the probe after Tymoshenko was fired as prime minister later that year.

Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchinov, who headed the SBU at the time, on Monday stopped short of linking Mogilevich to RosUkrEnergo but said the company copied its "opaque" business style from the gas trader that it replaced as intermediary between Russia and Ukraine, Eural Trans Gas.

Asked if Mogilevich could have been arrested because of his possible links with RosUkrEnergo, Turchinov said in e-mailed comments sent by his spokeswoman that Ukraine sought transparency in energy relations with Russia but that he did not think the arrest was politically motivated.

"I am confident that the Russian special services have just done their duty," Turchinov said.

RosUkrEnergo last week strongly denied that it had anything to do with Mogilevich, who was arrested on charges of tax evasion with the owner of the Arbat Prestige cosmetics chain, Vladimir Nekrasov.

Marina Ostapenko, a spokeswoman for the SBU, said Monday that the agency had never filed a criminal case against Mogilevich.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said the company had no information about Mogilevich's possible involvement in RosUkrEnergo.

Gazprom's contracts with RosUkrEnergo, including the prices, were fixed for this year, Kupriyanov said. Ukraine has not formally sought any changes in the contracts, he said.

Tymoshenko has said she wants to scrap an agreement reached two weeks before she became prime minister in December, which set the gas price at $179.50 per 1,000 cubic meters. She is also seeking to raise transit fees for Gazprom exports through Ukraine.

Yushchenko, however, has opposed higher transit fees.

Tymoshenko first planned to come to Moscow on Wednesday, but delayed her visit on instructions from Yushchenko, who is hoping to hammer out a road map with Russia first for both governments to follow, Yushchenko's press service said last week.

Tymoshenko told a Kiev news conference last week that she had yet to talk to Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov to fix a date for her Moscow visit next month.

Yushchenko sent the chief of his National Security Council, Raisa Bogatyryova, to Moscow on Monday through Wednesday to prepare his trip.

RosUkrEnergo and Ukraine's state oil and gas company, Naftogaz Ukrainy, on Monday resumed talks on Naftogaz's gas debts, after halting them Friday.

Ukraine owes $598 million for fuel deliveries, RosUkrEnergo spokesman Andrei Knutov said Friday. He accused Naftogaz of unwillingness to conduct a "civilized dialogue," but Naftogaz said it considered the gas trader's demands "energy blackmail designed to discredit Ukraine's oil and gas policy."