Middlemen Blamed for Missing Gas

KIEV -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Friday rebuffed Russian accusations over huge missing gas volumes and blamed Moscow-imposed middlemen in a sign of new frictions over gas supply terms with Russia.

On Thursday, Gazprom told Tymoshenko at talks in Moscow it believed that 4 billion cubic meters had gone missing and were now considered Ukrainian debt. Gazprom earlier this month threatened to reduce supplies to Ukraine over payment arrears of $1.5 billion.

But Tymoshenko told her Cabinet on Friday it was two intermediaries -- RosUkrEnergo, which supplies gas to Ukraine, and UkrGasEnergo, which distributes the gas on the Ukrainian domestic market -- which were responsible for the missing gas.

"It turns out that they had managed in previous years to use the gas coming this year from Central Asia. They bought gas in advance and what did they do with it? Exported it or sent it to some other unknown place," she told ministers.

"Today, they have handed us an imbalance of 4 billion cubic meters, now considered debt for Naftogaz," Tymoshenko said, referring to Ukraine's financially troubled national oil and gas company. "They ran up huge debts, and not just in terms of money."

Tymoshenko's talks in Moscow on Thursday failed to clarify details of a gas agreement struck earlier this month by the two countries' presidents.

Tymoshenko held more than four hours of talks at Gazprom's headquarters after meeting Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov. Both she and Zubkov said they would stick to the agreements reached by the presidents, despite fears Ukraine's premier could challenge the deal.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and President Vladimir Putin clinched a last-minute deal to settle payment of Ukrainian arrears for gas supplies and, over time, to eliminate both RosUkrEnergo and UkrGasEnergo.

But Gazprom later said RosUkrEnergo, which is half controlled by Gazprom and half by two Ukrainian businessmen, may survive in some form.