YALTA, Nov. 19 – Russia will not be enforcing penalties against Ukraine for lower-than-expected natural gas imports this year due to the “special” relationship between the two countries, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday.
Putin met Yulia Tymoshenko, his Ukrainian counterpart, in Yalta amid mounting concerns in Ukraine that Gazprom may charge Naftogaz Ukrayiny about $8 billion in penalties in January 2010.
“The prime minister has raised a number of questions linked with crisis phenomena and we have decided that we can go halfway to meet the Ukrainian party and to somewhat correct our previous agreements,” Putin said after the meeting with Tymoshenko.
“Taking into account conditions that our economies are going through, and first of all in Ukraine, we perfectly understand that the level of gas consumption has dropped,” Putin said. “Since we have special way of our relations, we have decided not to enforce the penalties.”
Meanwhile, despite Putin’s verbal promise, Russia will probably not be making any written amendments to the gas agreement to remove the penalties. This leaves door open for Ukraine to face similar penalties every coming year until the agreement expires in 2019.
“This clause will stay in the [gas] contract,” Viktor Chernomyrdin, an advisor to the Russian prime minister and a former Russian ambassador to Ukraine, said Thursday.
Igor Shuvalov, a Russian deputy prime minister, also said the changes will probably not be reflected in the gas agreement. “Why? I don’t think so,” he said when asked by reporters if Russia would go ahead to legally amend the agreement.
Ukraine originally pledged to import 42 billion cubic meters of gas in 2009, but will probably import only 25 billion cubic meters as the severe economic crisis had reduced gas consumption steeply.
Ukraine also pledged to import at least 52 billion cubic meters of gas annually during the next nine years, while Tymoshenko has indicated earlier that Ukraine will probably import about 32 billion cubic meters in 2010.
This leaves a chance that Ukraine may face similar penalties from Russia each next year until the bilateral gas agreement expires in 2019.
Tymoshenko also said that the agreement will not be changed and thanked Russian leaders for cooperation.
“Both, you and we, are fulfilling the agreement and it is very important that you, as a strong power, come halfway to meet Ukraine during the crisis to make sure that gas contracts are implemented,” Tymoshenko said at press conference addressing Putin. (nr/ez)