Yushchenko Opposes Calls for Higher Gas Transit Fee

KIEV -- Ukrainian 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 meters from $50 in 2005.

Russian media last week reported that the new head of Ukraine's state energy firm, Naftogaz Ukrainy, was seeking to steeply raise the fees to $9.32 per 1,000 cubic meters across 100 kilometers from $1.70 now.

Yushchenko said the amount Ukraine pays Russia for the transit of 55 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas across 2,500 kilometers of mostly Russian land for its domestic use is the same as Russia pays Ukraine for the transit of 127 bcm across 1,100 kilometers 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 Sunday.

The new Naftogaz head, Oleh Dubyna, appointed by the Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in December shortly after she formed her new government, was in Moscow last week for talks with Gazprom.

During her last stint as prime minister, in 2005, Tymoshenko's fiery rhetoric on corruption in the energy sector, perceived by Moscow as anti-Russia, caused relations between the countries to worsen and contributed to a crisis that led to supply cuts.

She has long criticized 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 will visit Moscow soon, a spokeswoman said.

Yushchenko's office confirmed Monday that he would visit Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 12.