Yulia Tymoshenko, poised to become Ukraine’s next prime minister, on Tuesday welcomed plans by Russia’s Gazprom to remove intermediary companies from the multi-billion-dollar gas trade between Moscow, Ukraine and central Asian producers.
Ms Tymoshenko’s vow to remove intermediaries from the region’s gas trade could strain relations between Moscow and Kiev, whose vast pipeline system is the main artery for Russian supplies to Europe.
A top Ukrainian official warned that her objective could spark a repeat of the gas crisis last year.
But recent comments by Ms Tymoschenko and top Russian officials suggest her views may be gaining support in Moscow.
Speaking on Germany’s ARD television station on Monday, Dmitry Medvedev, chairman of Gazprom’s board of directors, said: “We will probably revise the scheme of our relations [with Ukraine] and give up any intermediary structures that are not understandable.”
Ms Tymoshenko was quick to respond to Mr Medvedev’s comments on Tuesday, saying, “It is very good that the Russian Federation confirmed such a position of ours in building relations.”
Their exchange came just two weeks after Gazprom threatened to cut off Kiev from supplies in return for rising gas debt owed by the very intermediaries in question. While an agreement has since been reached on settling the debt, the timing of Gazprom’s warning – two days after Kiev’s September 30 election – appeared to signal Moscow’s unease with a Tymoshenko-led government. Whether she truly has mustered support in Moscow for her energy reforms remains uncertain.
If she succeeds, the position of Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash is at risk. Mr Firtash owns a major interest in the Ukraine-Russia-central Asian gas trade through Swiss-registered trader RosUkrEnergo. Mr Firtash and a partner control 50 per cent of RosUkrEnergo, the monopoly supplier of gas to Ukraine. Gazprom owns the other half.
News of a potential deal struck between Ms Tymoshenko and Gazprom triggered warnings from the outgoing governing coalition led by Viktor Yanukovich, the current premier.
“We will be getting gas not at the $130 [€92, £64] rate as we have today, but at something like $230 per 1,000 cubic metres,” said Serhiy Lovochkin, Mr Yanukovich’s chief of staff.
Ms Tymoshenko brushed off such fears, saying: “I am convinced that the price of gas will be balanced, moderate. We will find mutual understanding with the Russian Federation.”