Russia, Ukraine leaders tackle gas row
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych met his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday for crunch talks aimed at avoiding a repeat of a gas row that cut off some EU supplies in 2009.
The meeting at the government's Zavidovo hunting estate was joined later in the day by Vladimir Putin -- the prime minister whom Medvedev on Saturday dramatically asked to succeed him as president in March elections.
"We have already managed to resolve lots of problems, and I am sure that we will take the right and constructive approach here as well," Yanukovych told Medvedev in televised opening remarks.
"I accepted your invitation and came here to be at your side on this symbolic day for Russia and for Ukraine as well, I am sure," the Ukrainian leader added in reference to the planned handover of power to Putin.
The political drama in Moscow overshadowed a visit whose importance escalated sharply with Ukraine's announcement last month that it was ready to take its neighbour to an international court over gas.
Ukraine currently serves as Europe's main link to Russia's natural gas supplies and a previous dispute over prices led to a cut-off that lasted three weeks in January 2009.
Russia has been gradually raising the price it charges former Soviet republics for gas after spending more than a decade subsidising deliveries in exchange for friendlier relations.
Ukraine says it should be paying a price closer to $230 per 1,000 cubic metres as opposed to the approximately $400 it will be charged at the turn of the year.
The Kommersant business daily said Ukraine was preparing to lift the price it charges for Russia's gas transits to EU nations if no agreement is reached -- a move certain to anger Moscow.
Kiev has also vowed to take Moscow to an arbitration court in Brussels and refused to join a Russian-led customs union that Medvedev has set out as one of the conditions for a lower gas price.
Moscow is also willing to negotiate a lower price if Ukraine gives up control of its natural gas transmission to Russia's Gazprom monopoly.
Ukraine has rejected the offer and has been ready to make a counter-proposal that would see Russia and the EU take joint stakes in the pipeline network -- a condition rejected by Russia.
© 2011 AFP