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Mon, Jan 16, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Ukraine's president defends 'shameful' deal with Russia

AP , KIEV

Ukraine's president has defended a controversial gas deal with Russia and reiterated that the government would stay in office until March parliamentary elections despite a vote to dismiss it.

Viktor Yushchenko said his country's energy relations with Russia became more efficient after a bruising public fight over the price of gas that ended in a deal reached last week.

Under the agreement, the price Ukraine is paying for Russian and Central Asian gas nearly doubled.

"Our relations with Russia on the gas issue became more predictable, efficient and economically grounded," he said on Saturday in his regular radio address to the nation.

Parliament this week voted to fire the Cabinet over the hike in the price of gas imports, as Yushchenko's opponents united in condemning the deal for allegedly violating the country's interests.

Yushchenko called the vote "illegal" and reiterated that Ukraine has a "fully-fledged" government that would work until a new Cabinet is appointed after the March 26 vote.

He called the gas dispute a "difficult exam on political maturity" and warned that "we faced the threat of losing sovereignty, economic independence and freedom."

Yushchenko pointed out that the price -- US$95 per 1,000m3 -- was 30 percent lower than what other former Soviet bloc countries were paying.

The outcome of the energy crisis "demonstrated that Ukraine can defend its national interests and be ... a reliable partner," Yushchenko said.

The compromise was reached only after Russia briefly cut off gas supplies to Ukraine, whose pipeline network pumps most of the gas Russia exports to Europe. The cutoff also resulted in reductions farther west to Europe.

Meanwhile, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko renewed her call to annul the gas agreement.

"It was not a gas agreement, it was a shameful deal against Ukraine's independence, welfare, dignity and its possibility to carry out an independent policy in the world," she said in an interview with a private Kiev television and radio company later on Saturday.

"It's not only Ukraine's instability, it is instability for the whole of Europe," Tymoshenko said of the deal.

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