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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Denies Theft From Gas Transit

KIEV -- The head of Ukraine's state-owned gas company, Naftogas, has denied that the country has been illegally siphoning gas from export pipelines passing over Ukrainian territory, an allegation twice leveled by Russian energy officials.

Ihor Bakai said Naftogas would open its books to Russian scrutiny by Feb. 5 to dispel the charges. Bakai said Monday all gas taken from the network was done so legally and was due Ukraine under an agreement as payment for using the pipeline. About 90 percent of Russia's gas exports to Europe goes via pipelines that cross Ukraine.

Russia's Fuel and Energy Ministry estimated last week that Ukraine stole at least 900 million cubic meters of gas during a five-day period in December, said Yury Nogotkov, a ministry spokesman.

Russia temporarily canceled energy shipments to Ukraine in December to protest the alleged theft.

Nogotkov said Ukraine was stealing in cycles, taking up to 100 million cubic meters of gas a day for a week and then stopping.

Bakai said Monday, "There is no siphoning and stealing, but there are unidentified suppliers."

Bakai also said Russia is exaggerating Ukraine's debt for gas shipments, which Russia has said amounts to over $2 billion.

He said Ukraine's debt to Russia amounts to $997.57 million for gas, and that thecompany has pledged to pay the debt through a restructuring program, despite poor collection of energy payments from consumers in Ukraine.

"Today there is no grounds to say the debt is beyond our strength," Bakai said at a news conference. He said Ukraine's government should devise a new energy policy to prevent accumulating more debt.

Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russia's natural gas and oil, producing only 18 million cubic meters daily of its own gas.

Ukraine sent one more strategic bomber to Russia in a deal allowing Kiev to pay off some of its energy debts to Moscow with Soviet-era nuclear-capable aircraft, Reuters quoted a Defense Ministry spokesman as saying.

Under the deal, signed last year by the two neighboring ex-Soviet states, Ukraine has to deliver to Russia eight Tupolev-160 "Black Jack" bombers and three long-range Tupolev-95MS aircraft to reduce its debt by $275 million.

A ministry spokesman said the strategic bomber, Tupolev-160, had left Pryluky air base 120 kilometers east of the capital Kiev at 4:30 p.m. Moscow time, bound for Engels air base in Russia's central Saratov region.