Putin Blames Bush for Gas Dispute With Ukraine

bloombergPutin speaking to a journalist on Sunday, when he blamed George W. Bush for the recent gas dispute with Ukraine.��
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blamed George W. Bush for a dispute with Ukraine that left much of Europe without gas this month, saying the former U.S. president fostered political chaos in the region.

Putin also said he was "cautiously optimistic" about future relations with U.S. President Barack Obama.

"What happened in recent years in Ukraine is the result, to a significant extent, of the activities of the previous U.S. administration and the European Union, which supported it," Putin said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Sunday.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko have feuded since they were swept to power four years ago in the so-called Orange Revolution, sparked by the victory of a pro-Russian candidate in a rigged presidential election. Bush said at the time that the revolution was a "powerful example" of the movement toward freedom "for people all around the world."

Russia and the EU "have become hostages of this domestic political situation," Putin said near Veliky Novgorod, the ninth-century trading hub between Moscow and St. Petersburg. "It was that domestic political situation in Ukraine that left no chance for us to reach final agreements on the gas issue."

While U.S.-Russia ties reached a post-Cold War nadir in Bush's last months, Putin said there are "certain signals" that Obama is reassessing policies that Russia opposes -- plans to deploy elements of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and to fast-track membership for Ukraine and Georgia in NATO.

Bush won approval to place the missile shield in Central Europe after Russia's five-day war with Georgia in August, saying it was intended to protect against attacks from Iran or North Korea. President Dmitry Medvedev said in November that he would place short-range missiles and radio-jamming facilities near Poland to "neutralize" the system.

Obama has said he has "no commitment" to the shield and wants more analysis on whether it will actually work before deciding to proceed or abandon the project.

"In Mr. Obama's inner circle, they're saying there is no need to rush with it and it needs to be further analyzed, and we welcome such statements," Putin said.

Russia is also hearing "positive signals on NATO expansion," Putin said. "They are saying that it is possible to provide security for Ukraine and Georgia in various ways and it is not essential to accept them into NATO now," he said. "We welcome that and are ready to take part in any discussion on working out the best options to ensure international security."

Western European countries led by Germany on Dec. 2 maintained a veto on membership road maps for both countries, defying Bush's attempts to accelerate NATO entry.

Two weeks later, the Bush administration signed a "charter on strategic partnership" with Ukraine that pledged "to strengthen Ukraine's candidacy for NATO membership" and concluded a similar agreement with Georgia on Jan. 9. In the accord, which was signed as Ukraine was negotiating gas prices and transit fees with Russia, the United States also vowed "to work closely together on rehabilitating and modernizing the capacity of Ukraine's gas transit infrastructure."

Talks between Ukraine and Gazprom broke down at the end of December, prompting Russia to halt fuel supplies to and then through Ukraine, affecting supplies in more than 20 countries for almost two weeks. Gazprom said the U.S.-Ukraine accord on pipelines was "suspicious" and suggested that Ukraine was "dancing to music" being played by the United States.

Putin and Tymoshenko, with EU mediation, signed a deal on Jan. 19 to resume gas flows. Yushchenko, though, is unhappy with the deal.

"A new attempt to review these agreements at the presidential level is the best confirmation" that the political instability in Ukraine is a threat to Europe's energy security, Putin said.