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Russia Pledges Closer Energy Ties with Ukraine
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Russian President Vladimir Putin assured his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko here on Friday that Russia would be Ukraine's reliable energy supplier, presenting a welcome break from the strained relationship between the two countries in the recent past.

After talks with Yushchenko, Putin told a joint news conference that Russia and Ukraine will build their relations on the basis of pragmatism, equal rights, good neighborly ties and friendship.

Putin's Friday visit to Kiev is his first since Ukraine's pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych came to power in August. Yanukovych had promised to improve Ukraine's strained relations with Moscow, which had been troubled by President Yushchenko's looking-westward policies.

Putin said that both Russia and Ukraine understand the practical advantage and strategic importance of joint action, and hope to continue their cooperation in energy, aviation, transportation and military sectors.

Putin's meeting with Yushchenko stood in sharp contrast against the two countries' relations a year ago when Moscow cut off gas supplies to Ukraine for four days over a dispute regarding gas prices. The shutdown worried western European countries.

In October, both sides agreed to a gas price widely seen as a gift to Yanukovych's pro-Russian government -- US$130 per 1,000 cubic meters. Although Kiev pays US$95 per 1,000 cubic meters at present, Russia is demanding US$170 per 1,000 cubic meters from Moldova and 235 from Georgia in 2007.

"We are ready to cooperate with Ukraine on the basis of market principles and ready to look at the possibility of additional gas supplied if needed," said Putin.

Ukraine consumes about 80 billion cubic meters of gas each year, most of which is imported from Russia. Russia transfers 112 billion cubic meters of gas to other European countries each year through pipelines crossing Ukraine. In recent years, the two countries had been in dispute over gas prices and Russia's payments to Ukraine for using its pipelines.

(Xinhua News Agency December 23, 2006)

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