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Russian ambassador calls Ukraine-EU gas declaration senseless

RIA Novosti

26/03/2009 21:25 KIEV, March 26 (RIA Novosti) - The recent Ukraine-EU natural gas pipeline declaration does not make any sense and looks like a deal signed by "a deaf man and a blind man," the Russian ambassador in Ukraine said Thursday.

Ukraine and the European Union signed a declaration on Monday to modernize the ex-Soviet state's natural gas pipeline network. Russia, which transits about 80% of its Europe-bound gas via Ukraine, said it was excluded from the talks in Brussels, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin threatened to review ties with the EU.

"If you want my opinion, it looks as if a deaf man and a blind man sat at a table and signed the paper without even understanding what they had signed," the UNIAN news agency quoted Viktor Chernomyrdin as saying.

The EU endorsed Ukraine's plan to modernize its Soviet-era pipelines and underground storages and build new gas metering stations, for which Europe pledged 2.5 billion euros ($3.4 billion) and promised to encourage more investment on the condition Kiev reform the sector to make it more open and transparent.

Ukraine also asked the EU to help build two more pipelines to increase the network's capacity by about 60 billion cubic meters to 200 billion cu m, a project it earlier estimated at $5.5 billion.

Kiev says this would be cheaper than building long-distance gas pipelines, such as Nabucco promoted by Europe and the Nord Stream and South Stream projects Russia has been pushing.

President Viktor Yushchenko said on Monday Ukraine would soon join the treaty on the common European energy system, raising fears in Moscow that Ukraine would be legally closer to the EU in the energy sphere.

Some EU countries experienced disruptions in gas supplies in January as Russia briefly cut off shipments via Ukraine amid a debt and pricing row with its neighbor. The crisis fueled EU concerns on reliance on Russian energy.

The Ukrainian prime minister said on Tuesday that Russia was welcome to invest in Ukraine's pipelines and modernize them.

"Russia can invest in and modernize the gas pipeline system," Yulia Tymoshenko told a news conference, adding that Moscow might not like some aspects of the cooperation agreement with EU, but the document did not run counter to Russia's interests.

Russia's energy giant Gazprom said, though, that the increase in gas pipeline capacity envisioned in the document would affect future export contracts and production of natural gas in Russia and Central Asia.

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