MOSCOW, Oct. 12 - Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov will visit Ukraine next week for crucial natural gas price talks with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Moroz said Thursday.
Moroz, who discussed natural gas prices with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier Thursday, said the issue had been politically resolved, but gave no other details.
â€śThe issue of gas prices has finally been solved,â€ť Moroz told journalists in Moscow after the meeting with Putin. â€śWe can finally put a period in this.â€ť
The fact that Moroz spoke with Putin on gas prices suggests that Moscow has been seeking political concessions from Ukraine, such as its promise not to join NATO. As the speaker of Parliament, Moroz could block the accession.
Fradkov may visit Ukraine between Oct. 16 and Oct. 22, according to a source at the Ukrainian government.
Ukraine has been in talks with Russia for many months over natural gas prices to be charged in 2007, with Russia suggesting the prices may increase dramatically.
The Ukrainian government hopes to keep gas prices between $130 and $135 per 1,000 cu m, while Russia said the prices could increase to more than $200/1,000 cu m.
Any price hike to more than $135/1,000 cu m strain Ukraineâ€™s chemical sector by making most of the mineral fertilizer producers using natural gas as raw material unprofitable.
Russia has been threatening Ukraine with a major natural gas price hike ever since Ukraine declared a pro-Western foreign policy course and accession to NATO. Russia views NATO and its expansion to the East as a military threat.
The standoff between Ukraine and Russia over gas prices led to major gas supply disruptions throughout Europe in January, after Russia completely suspended gas deliveries to Ukraine.
The standoff ended after Ukraine accepted a 95% gas price hike to $95 per 1,000 cu m in 2006, up from $50/1,000 cu m in 2005.
Meanwhile, Yanukovych said Thursday that Ukraine and Russia have not yet agreed to a gas price in 2007, but said the issue is currently being discussed during Morozâ€™s visit to Moscow.
Deputy prime minister for energy Andriy Kliuyev and energy and fuel minister Yuriy Boyko joined Moroz on the visit to Moscow, Yanukovych said.
Yanukovych said Ukraine still hopes to reach an agreement with Russia that the gas price will be at the level of $130 per 1,000 cu m, at least during the first six months of 2007. (tl/ez)