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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

As Tymoshenko Arrives Subject of Gas Vanishes

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko met President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov late Wednesday, lending her name to a recently concluded gas deal that both countries are touting as a revolutionary step in their notoriously murky trade relations.

Yet despite high expectations that details of the deal, which removes a Swiss-registered middleman from the gas trade, would emerge during the visit, other issues seemed to be occupying official and media attention.

The subject of the deal was not even raised during Tymoshenko's meeting with Zubkov, reports on state-run television said.

Putin and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko agreed in Moscow last week to set up direct gas sales between Gazprom and Ukraine's state-run Naftogaz, cutting out middleman RosUkrEnergo.

Tymoshenko has been pushing the move since rejoining the Ukrainian government in December, yet her two-day visit to Moscow appeared to add little to the deal aside from lending her political stamp to what she has called a "great victory" for Ukraine.

Tymoshenko, a leader of the Orange Revolution that overturned Kiev's more Russia-friendly government in 2005, has long had frosty relations with Moscow.

"I know that in Russia, even little kids are frightened of me," she said in an interview with Vedomosti published Wednesday.

Two evening news broadcasts on state-run television put Tymoshenko's visit on the back burner, instead highlighting a traffic scandal they say has engulfed Ukraine. The programs delved deeply into the incident, which saw the head of Ukraine's traffic police cut off the speaker of the country's parliament, before rolling down the window and flashing his middle finger.

A third program showed Putin lecturing a silent Tymoshenko: "I would very much like it if our investors ... were dealt with according to the law and not at a lower level than other investors."

Putin has reacted angrily to Kiev's Western tilt, threatening to point missiles at Ukraine if it joins NATO.

Tymoshenko tried to appease her Russian audience, saying in the Vedomosti interview that she would not block Russia's WTO accession, and playing up the corruption of Ukrainian officials.

"The fact that Russia and Ukraine are putting aside RosUkrEnergo is a common victory for both countries," she said, calling the firm a "shady scheme."

RosUkrEnergo, half-owned by Gazprom and half by two Ukrainian businessmen, kept its ownership structure secret for months after emerging from a pricing dispute in January 2006 as the vehicle through which Gazprom sold gas to Ukraine.

"The arrival of RosUkrEnergo was a gas tragedy for Ukraine," Tymoshenko said. "I personally believe that RosUkrEnergo is a shady structure which corrupted the highest Ukrainian officials."

Tymoshenko has linked RosUkrEnergo shareholder Dmitry Firtash to Semyon Mogilevich, the suspected crime boss of Ukrainian origin who was charged with tax evasion in Moscow weeks before the deal was announced.

In the interview, Tymoshenko revealed her motivations for going after RosUkrEnergo, which came as Ukraine won accession to the WTO: "In this case, the most important thing isn't even the question of gas price, but the question of reputation and transparency."

Europe gets one-quarter of its gas from Gazprom, mainly through pipelines that traverse Ukraine.

Zubkov and Tymoshenko, in a joint press conference, said they were committed to the deal agreed to by Putin and Yushchenko, which will also see Kiev pay a $1.5 billion debt to Gazprom.

The deal includes "the joint development of reserves of hydrocarbons in both countries, involving an exchange of comparable assets," Zubkov added, Interfax reported.