Today the State oil and gas company Naftogaz Ukraine has paid $50 million to Russian Gazprom. Together with yesterday’s payment of $310 million it settles the gas supply bill of Ukraine for February 2009. Now all the Europe may breathe a sigh of relief: this month there will be no gas cut-off.
(Besides, I’ve noticed at least one mismatch – in figures. The figures I’ve mentioned above, given according to the information of the Secretariat of the President of Ukraine, have in total $360 million – which means that Ukraine imported only 1 billion cubic metres (bcm) of Russian gas in February. Gazprom’s officials have recently mentioned that Naftogaz has to pay $400 million. Hopefully it will not be a purpose for a new gas-fight between Ukraine and Russia).
Nevertheless, the gas supply remains in a center of a domestic turmoil in Ukraine. Muscular men wearing black masks and camouflage entered the Naftogaz Ukraine headquarters yesterday. They passed by the helpless company guards, and started to question the accountants of the company, and to search for something in the management office. All the main TV channels were translating this fascinating story in almost live regime (it’s a democracy!). “Armed people in camouflage pushed aside security, and showed no documents,” a spokesman of Naftogaz Valentyn Zemlyansky said to journalists.
The masked men appeared to be the secret service agents, who came to the Naftogaz Ukraine to take off the documents, related to Russian-Ukraine gas supply agreement, signed in January. The spokeswoman of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Maryna Ostapenko informed press that the national security service is investigating criminal case on the illegal appropriation of 6,3 bcm of gas by the State company Naftogaz Ukraine. “Everything is within the frames of law”, Mrs. Ostapenko assured, and added that the Naftogaz authorities knew that the documents are to be seized that day. (The last remark explains such a huge media support of the action).
Anyway, the most interesting thing is not a scary picture, but the reasons of the scandal. As every contemporary problem in Ukraine, it has origins in the struggle for power between the President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko and the Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko.
The story begins in November 2008, when the Ukrainian Customs office refused to perform customs clearing of 11 bcm of Russian gas, pumped to Ukrainian gas storages by Russian Gazprom. The gas was dedicated for the well-known Swiss-registered intermediary RosUkrEnergo, half owned by Gazprom, and half – by Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash. The Customs of Ukraine bonded all the amount of gas (for some reasons), until the gas conflict with Russia started. (Here I would like to suppose again that the gas “war” with Russia was a planned thing).
In January 2009 – in frames of a settlement of the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute – Russians transferred to Naftogaz Ukraine the rights to claim from RosUkrEnergo the debt, which it has to Gazprom. The same time Russia received a 20 per cent discount on pipeline transit fees. A new set of bilateral Agreements eliminated RosUkrEnergo from Russia-Ukraine gas trading scheme.
As the PM says, Gazprom agreed to give the gas to Ukraine at a privileged price of $1,7 billion for all the 11 bcm of gas, and these money were to be considered as a payment for a transit of Russian gas to Europe. (I haven’t seen the documents, but it sounds like a true). This fact permitted to the Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to declare that the average gas price for Ukraine in 2009 is $228 per tcm.
After the signing of the Agreements with Gazprom, Naftogaz Ukraine faced a new problem: a Head of the State Customs office of Ukraine Valery Khoroshkovsky refused to perform a custom clearing of mentioned amount of gas. He claimed the gas belongs to RosUkrEnergo.
The Prime Minister solved the problem: Mr. Khoroshkovsky was fired. But the President appointed him as a Deputy Head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).
At long last, the Ukrainian Customs released the 11 bcm of ex-RosUkrEnergo-gas from the bond – in favour of the State company Naftogaz Ukraine. After that the SBU started the investigation mentioned above. On 3 March at night Deputy Head of the department of Energy Customs office Taras Shepitko was arrested. The next day men in mask appeared on the threshold of Naftogaz.
As for this moment, there is a ruling of a court, which states the SBU should stop the actions concerning the mentioned Naftogaz-case. Pro-presidential and pro-government experts are giving controversial comments. RosUkrEnergo still insists that is owns the gas. Gazprom didn’t make any statements concerning this concrete question.
Mrs. Tymoshenko is condemning the actions of the SBU. “They simply wanted to paralyze the activities of Naftogaz and destroy the gas distribution system in Ukraine,” she said. She also accused Mr. Yushchenko of lobbying on behalf of RosUkrEnergo. First Vice Prime Minister Alexander Turchynov also declared yesterday that “Viktor Yushchenko was patronizing RosUkrEnergo”, and that Mr. Khoroshkovsky “has joint business with Mr. Firtash”.
The press secretary of the President of Ukraine Iryna Vannikova informed yesterday that “President fully supports the actions of the SBU”. “The Security Service acts in frames of law. The actions of the Security Service agents are rather tough, but it is a demand of the circumstances of this case, - Mrs. Vannikova said. - President is sure that it is necessary to show a determination and insistence in the investigation of the identified corrupt practices”.