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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Denies Gas Pipe Talks

APYushchenko speaking to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at his country home outside Kiev on Thursday.
KIEV -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said it was far too early to talk about setting up any joint venture with Russia to manage gas transit pipelines crossing his country, as these were strategic assets.

Yushchenko's comments on Friday contrasted with remarks by President Vladimir Putin that Moscow and Kiev had revived an idea to set up a big venture to manage the pipelines.

Putin said Thursday that the Ukrainian offer was of "a revolutionary character."

Yushchenko said nothing substantial on the issue had been discussed.

His reluctance is also at odds with the approach of his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who has backed the idea.

"The gas transport system is a strategic Ukrainian asset. By law, the state has a monopoly over it and manages it. Everything which is related to modifying the model requires a very thorough and cautious approach," Yushchenko said at a news conference.

"It is difficult to speak about this because we need to debate the principles of organizing our relations and methods to implement initiatives. I would not mention any percentages or shares in any plants today because we are far away from this."

Gazprom has long wanted to acquire control over the Ukrainian gas transit pipeline system. Up to 80 percent of Russian natural gas destined for European markets passes through Ukrainian territory.

Yushchenko and other Ukrainian politicians have opposed any notion of ceding control. But the president's stance could be undermined by Yanukovych, who is friendly to Moscow and has said he supports the idea of setting up the gas joint venture with Russia while demanding equal rights.

Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and now the main opposition leader, said her parliamentary group had submitted a bill to ban "manipulation" of the state oil and gas company Naftogaz Ukrainy, which manages the gas-transit pipelines.

"All manipulations around our gas transport system in exchange for some sort of bait are blatant fraud and clearly a betrayal of Ukraine's national interests," Tymoshenko said.

Yushchenko and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev pledged at a meeting in Kiev on Friday to boost energy cooperation between their countries. The presidents discussed Kazakhstan's potential participation in expanding already existing pipelines or building new ones that could help transport Kazakh oil to Western markets.

The leaders also discussed Kazakhstan's possible participation in building an oil refinery in Brody, on the Polish border, Yushchenko said.

(Reuters, AP)