Raising Fears, Kiev Seeks New Gas Talks

ReutersYushchenko, left, greeting Romanian Foreign Minister Cristian Diaconescu as they meet for talks in Kiev on Friday.��
KIEV -- Ukraine needs new talks to improve the terms of last week's gas agreement with Russia, a senior aide to President Viktor Yushchenko said Friday, raising fears of new gas supply disruptions to Europe.

The deal, reached by Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, came as a relief for Europe after a two-week cutoff in Russian gas supplies, but it exposed rifts in Ukraine's leadership.

Tymoshenko would not allow the gas deal to be revised, a senior government official said.

Oleksander Shlapak, Yushchenko's economic aide, said Kiev would call for new talks with Moscow to renegotiate the deal on better terms for Ukraine.

"I believe the Ukrainian side must again carefully analyze this agreement ... work out proposals to the Russian side on altering this agreement and begin consultations no later than this summer," Shlapak said at a news conference.

He said changing the deal was vital to ensure the survival of the Ukrainian economy, which is heading into its worst recession in a decade.

Speaking in Uzbekistan, Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller ruled out any revision of the deal negotiated between Tymoshenko and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

"Where does this suggestion of revising the contract come from? A Ukrainian satirical newspaper?" Miller told reporters.

Slovakia, one of the countries hit the hardest by the interruption of gas supplies, strongly criticized any suggestion of changing the final deal.

"I consider attempts by Ukrainian President Yushchenko to block the signed contracts from Jan. 19 to be completely crazy," Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said.

In a commentary published in Germany's Die Welt newspaper, Gazprom's deputy chief Alexander Medvedev said that reopening talks would only jeopardize European consumers.

"Any attempt to reopen negotiations would be doomed to failure and only burden millions of European citizens," he wrote.

The gas dispute intensified the EU's search for alternative sources of energy and injected fresh impetus into the stalled Nabucco project to supply Central Asian gas to EU customers.

Highlighting Moscow's resolve to defend its interests in Central Asia, President Dmitry Medvedev was in Uzbekistan on Friday to win support for a rival trans-Russian gas pipeline.

In Kiev, the senior government official was adamant that Tymoshenko would not allow renegotiation of the deal.

"[The agreements] represent the country's interests and were drawn up within the framework of Ukraine's strategic and economic interests," First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksander Turchynov told a news conference.

The gas dispute created a fresh rift between Ukraine's president and prime minister. Tymoshenko says the deal provides the best possible conditions for Ukraine -- a 20 percent discount on European prices in 2009 and the elimination of intermediaries in the gas trade.

But Yushchenko called it a "defeat," citing steep price increases in the first quarter with no rise in transit fees for Ukraine to offset them.