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Ukraine pledges not to cut Russian gas transit to Europe

President Viktor Yushchenko gave assurances on Wednesday that Ukraine would not reduce Russian natural gas transit shipments to Europe despite Russia's gas cuts to Ukraine.

Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said earlier on Wednesday, citing Ukrainian state oil and gas company Naftogaz, that Ukraine had begun reducing Europe-bound gas supplies.

When asked about the issue on his arrival in Kazakhstan, Yushchenko said: "No, this will not happen, although this is a serious issue." He said that gas disputes with Russia would not affect customers in Europe.

On Tuesday, Naftogaz threatened to start tapping Russian gas being pumped to Europe if the country suffers a major shortfall.

Gazprom reduced supplies to Ukraine by 50% this week over Kiev's failure to pay off a $600 million gas debt and approve new supply schemes. Ukraine is now receiving 69.3 million cubic meters of gas per day compared to the usual 156 million.

The new row sparked concerns in Europe, which imports 25% of its natural gas via Ukraine's pipeline system, from Russia.

Ferran Tarradellas, European Commission energy spokesman, said a European Union gas group would hold an emergency meeting on March 11 to discuss the dispute between the former Soviet allies.

No EU country has reported a shortfall in gas supplies so far. Shipments were affected at the start of 2006, when Russia briefly cut off shipments to Ukraine, which transits about 80% of Russian gas, amid a bitter pricing row.

In Kiev, the prime minister echoed Yushchenko's statement. "Ukraine will transit to the EU all the gas Russia supplies for transit," Yulia Tymoshenko told a news briefing.

Tymoshenko also said Russia and Ukraine have resolved the dispute and that Gazprom has agreed to resume full supplies to Ukraine.

"The heads of Naftogaz and Gazprom are in talks by telephone at the moment before a joint statement that will announce an end to the gas dispute," she said. "A group will be set up soon to continue resolving gas issues."

Tymoshenko said she and the president would soon propose a new scheme to ensure stable gas supplies to the country: "I believe the president and the prime minister will soon propose to Ukraine a balanced scheme for ensuring gas supplies to the country."

The premier's statements came after Yushchenko's strong-worded demands earlier on Wednesday that the government resume gas talks with Russia.

Some analysts in Ukraine said Tymoshenko, who has sought to return control of gas imports and domestic distribution to Naftogaz, has been behind the new gas row with Russia.

Speaking to reporters after a government session on Wednesday, Tymoshenko reiterated the need to remove the intermediary companies which she earlier blamed for allowing its debt to accumulate from gas deals between the two countries.

RIA Novosti

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