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Ukraine president criticises Russian gas pipeline

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Friday issued a rare rebuke to the Kremlin by describing as unfriendly a Russian plan to build an ambitious new gas pipeline that would bypass Ukraine’s territory.

Yanukovych has worked hard to improve relations between Moscow and Kiev since defeating the leaders of the pro-Western Orange Revolution in presidential elections this year.

But in an interview with Agence France-Presse and two other foreign news agencies in Kiev, he said building the South Stream pipeline would only have made sense when the former anti-Kremlin leadership was in power.

“It’s being shown to us that our partners can get by without Ukraine. This is not-partner-like and I have already expressed this to our partners in Russia and the European Union,” he said.

“Do not exclude Ukraine as a partner,” he added.

“There was reason to behave like that when Ukraine frightened Europe and Russia. But those times have passed.”

Under the former presidency of Viktor Yushchenko, relations between Russia and Ukraine plunged to a post-Soviet low and a row over gas prices led to Europe being cut off from Russian gas for two weeks in winter 2009.

A quarter of the gas consumed in the European Union comes from Russia, 80 percent of which passes through Ukraine.

The South Stream pipeline will carry Russian gas under the Black Sea and into the Balkans to create a new energy route to Europe that will by-pass Ukrainian territory.

Yanukovych said that instead of the complex South Stream project, Russia and the European Union would be better off developing Ukraine’s existing pipeline infrastructure.

“We are saying — let’s join together and let’s not not re-invent the wheel and go right to the bed of the Black Sea, where there may be many unpredictable aspects. Let’s build across Ukrainian territory.

“It will be many times cheaper and quicker.”

The South Stream pipeline is backed by Russian giant Gazprom along with Italian energy company ENI and French group EDF. Gazprom expects the first part to come online by December 2015.