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Ukraine to Send Officials for Gas Talks

KIEV — New Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said Tuesday that he would send a delegation to Russia next week for talks to change gas agreements between the two countries.

"Our delegation, headed by the Minister of Fuel and Energy [Yuri Boiko], will go to Moscow next week to carry out talks to adjust the gas agreements," Azarov told a European Union official.

Newly elected President Viktor Yanukovych said, on taking office late last month, that one of his first tasks would be to bring about a "just" price for supplies of Russian gas, which are covered by a 10-year agreement signed in January 2009.

That agreement, signed by Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftogaz with the blessing of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his counterpart at the time, Yulia Tymoshenko, ended a three-week gas "war" between the two powers in early 2009.

The standoff led to Russia cutting off gas supplies across Ukraine to Europe leaving millions shivering in the cold.

But Tymoshenko, who narrowly lost a presidential election against Yanukovych last month, was sharply criticized by the political opposition and then-President Viktor Yushchenko for giving the nod to the agreement.

"We consider this agreement unjust," Azarov told Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira, the EU's representative in Ukraine.

"We pay a price for gas which is approximately one and a half times that for European consumers. … We are getting ready for very serious talks with our Russian partners and already, as we work out the budget, we are building in a price for gas which we consider optimal," he said.

Gazprom has said many times in the past that it is satisfied with the present agreement and sees no reason for it to be renegotiated.

Azarov said work on drafting the budget for 2010 — seen as the first big challenge of the new government — had to take account of domestic debt servicing for April amounting to $752 millions and a gas bill for the month totaling about $700 million.

Stabilizing of Ukraine's internal finances is seen as key to attempts by the new government to secure renewed help from the International Monetary Fund.

The country drew on a $16.4 billion bailout program from the IMF last year, but the fund suspended this after Ukraine breached promises to keep social spending down.

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