Thursday, January 29, 2009

Viktor Yushchenko: «The gas conflict has unified Ukrainian society»

The gas conflict between Ukraine and Russia has raised serious questions about European energy policy. Despite both countries signing a recent agreement to end the dispute, the EU will be keen to avoid getting caught up in such a crisis again. Euronews spoke to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

Mr. President, welcome to "euronews". A new conflict between Russia and Ukraine deprived gas to several European countries. What happened?

President Yushchenko: Europe needs to know the truth about what happened. There's one thing I want to stress: Ukraine did not stop deliveries. All the transit pumping stations are located on the Russian side, and it is Russia that's responsible for gas supplies to Europe being blocked. Secondly, concerning the so-called non-authorised siphoning off. As the president of Ukraine, I can say, neither in 2008 nor in 2009 was a single cubic metre of gas, destined for Europe, used by Ukrainians to meet their needs. Once again, I emphasise, Ukraine has met its pipeline obligations. This isn't just about economics - there is also a political component as well.

EN: And what is this political dimension exactly?

President Yushchenko: By creating a sense of insecurity around deliveries of Russian gas via Ukraine, it changes the priority of certain projects. First of all, Ukraine's gas network becomes more dependent, and it creates the idea that it will be used by Russia's gas companies and by the Russian state. In other words, to repeat, what has been done in the gas transport systems of Moldova and Belarus in recent years. Obviously, there exists a similar plan for the Ukrainian gas transport system to be put under the control of Gazprom. For us this is unacceptable. It is a national resource, a national wealth, if your want. It is the embodiment of our independence, in this case - energy independence.

EN: The European Commission President has described Russia as an unreliable gas supplier and Ukraine an unreliable transporter. Is that a fair assessment?

President Yushchenko: It would be wrong for me to comment on what President Barroso has said. I simply want to remind you that Ukraine has not done anything that would restrict the supply of Russian gas. In other words, Europe has become a hostage to Russian politics. It's blackmail - the blackmail of the European community to go along with what Russia wants.

EN: Are you not afraid that the gas crisis will have a negative impact on future cooperation between Ukraine and the EU?

President Yushchenko: No. I am convinced that already this year, that Ukraine will sign an agreement on reunification of energy systems. I am confident that this year we will sign up to a treaty on energy partnership. I am convinced that the Brussels conference, which will be held in March, will be a good place for reflection on the integration of Ukraine's transport capabilities in the European gas market.

After a long dispute, the contract on gas supplies to Ukraine was signed. You said it was not profitable for Ukraine. Why?

President Yushchenko: I call it non-partnership. I will go over it again. The adoption of the basic formula for the price of gas at 450 dollars - is not objective. In Europe today, a price at this level doesn't exist. Ukraine finds itself being the shortest route for Russian gas deliveries. And the price we have today is higher than the price for certain western European countries. That is why this price is incorrect. Not in the sense that it is high, but in the sense that it is badly established. The second thing, is transit policy. The tax for transiting gas for Russia has not changed. It's 1.7 dollars per thousand cubic metres over a 100km. Its the lowest transit price in Europe.

EN: Are you going to insist on the review of these agreements, if you do not like the price?

President Yushchenko: We're not in the process of talking. We recognise these agreements and we will meet them. At the same time I hope the work of the European Commission, which - thanks to the modernisation of the gas transit system from Ukraine, and its integration into a single gas market in Europe - will equally provide details on the implementation of delivery projects. This will enable the best and rational use of Ukraine's gas transport system.

EN: The high price of gas could have an impact on the economic situation in Ukraine. Has this conflict and the high price influenced the political situation inside Ukraine?

President Yushchenko: I'm not going to hide the fact that various political forces have attempted to use the gas issue, by speculating. But, I don't think that is the most important thing. I believe the incident, which occurred between Ukraine, Europe and Russia in early January, has unified Ukrainian society. People were able to see the fragility of economic stability, which is based on energy diversification, particularly in gas policy.

EN: Thank you for this interview, Mr President.

President Yushchenko: Thank you.