Tymoshenko Facing Criticism Ukraine on the Brink of a Gas Crisis?

Yulia Tymoshenko will once again become Ukraine's prime minister. And already, she's making waves. A new gas crisis looms as she wants to re-examine the supply deal with Russia's Gazprom.

Ukraine's former and future prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ukraine's former and future prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the queen of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, is back. Finally, after three months of political paralysis in Kiev, Tymoshenko and President Viktor Yushchenko reached an agreement which will place Tymoshenko in the prime minister's office once again. The deal renews an at times tempestuous relationship between the two faces of the dramatic protests in December 2004 which led to a western-oriented Ukraine.

And Tymoshenko is just as feisty as when she left Ukraine's halls of power. On Thursday, she vowed to take a renewed look at the natural gas import deal her country signed with Russian oil giant Gazprom. A renewed energy crisis, like that which resulted in gas supplies to Ukraine being temporarily suspended last winter, looms.

"The announcement by Yulia Tymoshenko is the latest alarming call for European countries," Sergei Kupriyanov, a spokesman for Gazprom told reporters late Thursday. "Implementing the threats voiced today in Ukraine is a path to a new gas crisis."

Much of Europe's gas supply flows through Ukraine on its way west and last winter's interruption raised concerns in the West about the dependability of that supply line. Ukraine ended the crisis by agreeing to a deal which almost doubled the price Ukraine paid for gas from $50 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas to $95. Since the deal was reached, Ukraine has fallen behind in payments even as Gazprom executives argue the country should pay closer to the European average of $190 per 1,000 cubic meters, according to a Friday report in the New York Times.

"I think all agreements on gas supplies to Ukraine need a further profound revision," Tymoshenko said on Ukrainian television.

Tymoshenko's return to the Ukrainian political stage comes three months after parliamentary elections in the country which almost resulted in Yushchenko being forced to enter a coalition with his bitter 2004 rival Viktor Yanukovich. Instead, he has once again joined forces with Tymoshenko, his prime minister during the eight months after the Orange Revolution and one of Ukraine's most popular politicians.

She returns to office once again vowing to fight corruption, crooked privatization deals and judicial improprieties -- many of them the legacy of Yushchenko's predecessor Leonid Kuchma. "Today we begin our fight for our country to be democratic and cleansed of the dirt of corruption," Tymoshenko told Parliament when the coalition was announced.

Since the winter supply interruption, Europe has become increasingly skeptical of Gazprom, which supplies 25 percent of Europe's gas. In February, British lawmakers blocked an apparent Gazprom attempt to acquire the country's largest supplier. Gazprom has announced its intention to increase its presence in Europe.



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