Ukraine's Leaders Spar After Gas Feud

ReutersJournalists on Wednesday taking pictures of rats that an opposition group says represent Ukrainian politicians.
KIEV -- Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Wednesday defended as a "true victory" the accord she negotiated with Russia to restore the flow of gas to Europe, hitting back at criticism from her ally-turned-rival, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

Poland and Romania, Ukraine's western neighbors, became the latest Central European countries to report the resumption of gas supplies from Russia interrupted when the two argued over payment arrears and price.

The fresh hostilities between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko made it virtually certain there would be no end to the political turmoil that has gripped Ukraine since the Orange Revolution.

Tymoshenko clinched the deal in long talks last weekend in Moscow. It provided for Ukraine to pay market prices for gas less a 20 percent discount -- $360 in the first quarter -- likely to decline as markets fluctuate.

It also provided for the elimination of intermediaries in gas trading, which the prime minister had long demanded.

"Ukraine has won a special price," Tymoshenko told a Cabinet meeting. "For Ukraine, this is a true victory. I would like Ukraine to learn to celebrate victories rather than sling mud."

Yushchenko, at odds with the premier since she took office for a second time in late 2007, decried the deal on Tuesday as a "defeat." He said the price for Russian gas was too high with no increase in Ukraine's transit fees to offset costs.

But Tymoshenko said the deal was the best that could have been achieved for Ukraine, where industrial production is in a slump as the world financial crisis hits the economy.

"I am surprised that people who are aware of things have the gall to say that Ukraine's interests have been damaged," she told ministers.