Yanukovych Says Gas Price to Be Settled in October

Ukraine will ensure the smooth transit of gas to Europe this winter, the nation's prime minister said Friday after talks with President Vladimir Putin.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych also said Ukraine and Russia would agree on a gas price for the final months of the year in the "coming days" and would set a price for 2007 in October. Ukraine pays $95 per 1,000 cubic meters -- a price that Yanukovych said Ukraine would seek to keep at least until the new year.

"The question of $95 is of great importance for us, although we clearly understand that this is a difficult issue," he said on television following talks with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov.

Russia strongly supported Yanukovych's fraud-marred bid to win the Ukrainian presidency in 2004, and his return as prime minister was broadly seen as a boost for the Kremlin's interests in Ukraine, as Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko tries to move his nation closer to the West.

The Kremlin said Putin met with Yanukovych late Thursday.

Ukraine, which receives much of its gas supplies from Russia, agreed to a twofold price increase earlier this year after a bitter dispute with Gazprom.

The company briefly turned off the taps to Ukraine at the height of winter, which also triggered a brief shutdown of supplies to Western Europe after Ukraine began siphoning gas passing westward through its pipelines.

As part of the deal that resolved the dispute, Ukraine agreed to receive its imported natural gas at a price of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters from an intermediary company, RosUkrEnergo -- a joint venture between Gazprom and a company owned by two Ukrainian businessmen.