Firtash Says New Firm Could Guarantee Gas

KIEV — Ukraine should set up a joint venture with Gazprom and European companies including E.ON and GDF Suez to guarantee gas supplies after last month's dispute, billionaire Dmitry Firtash said.

Russian, Ukrainian and European investors would each own a third of the company, Firtash said in an interview Saturday. He controls 45 percent of Swiss-registered RosUkrEnergo, the sole importer of gas to Ukraine since 2006, while his business partner Ivan Fursin has 5 percent and Gazprom 50 percent.

Gas supplies from Russia via Ukraine to Europe halted for almost two weeks last month amid a spat over prices and transit fees. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said middlemen in the trade will be eliminated under an accord signed by the two governments Jan. 19.

"I am convinced that such a consortium should be set up," Firtash said. "Taking into account that Russian gas goes to Europe, companies such as Germany's E.ON, Gaz de France and Wingas should be interested."

Under Firtash's proposal, Ukraine's contribution to the venture would be its pipelines, which transport one-quarter of the European Union's annual gas consumption, and which he said might be worth about $20 billion. He said Gazprom should pledge gas fields producing 50 billion cubic meters per year over 25 years, while European companies should invest cash.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov could not be reached for comment when called on his mobile phone outside office hours. E.ON spokesman Jens Schreiber said he could not comment on its Ruhrgas unit, while Ruhrgas spokesman Helmut Roloff did not respond to a message left on his cell phone. GDF Suez spokeswoman Armelle Dillar declined to comment.

Firtash, 43, has a net worth estimated at $3.8 billion, according to Polish magazine Wprost, and has businesses mainly in energy, chemicals and pipeline construction. He consolidated his assets in holding company Group Dmitry Firtash, or GDF, in June 2007.

RosUkrEnergo was established in 2004 by "top Russian and Ukrainian politicians" to import Central Asian gas into Ukraine, according to its web site.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said that following the accord with Russia her country purchased 11 billion cubic meters of gas that belonged to RosUkrEnergo and is in Ukrainian storage facilities. Firtash is challenging this claim, saying RosUkrEnergo made no sale to the government and that the gas is contracted for delivery to Poland, Romania and Hungary.