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26/09/2016

Ukraine suspects Russian foul play behind pipeline blast

Europe's East

Ukraine suspects Russian foul play behind pipeline blast

TV footage of Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod blast

Ukraine said on Tuesday (17 June) that it was treating an explosion at a pipeline carrying Russian gas to the rest of Europe as a possible “act of terrorism”, intended to discredit Ukraine as a reliable supplier.

The blast, after Russia cut supplies to Kyiv in a price row, but continued supplying the European Union, caused no casualties and did not interrupt gas flows, but has increased tension as Kyiv tries to end an uprising by pro-Russian separatists.

The Interior Ministry issued a statement which described the blast, which sent a plume of dark smoke high into the sky over central Ukraine, as “the latest attempt by the Russian side to discredit Ukraine as a partner in the gas sector”.

“Several theories of what happened are being considered including the key theory – an act of terrorism,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in the statement, posted on the ministry’s website.

“According to local residents, they heard two big bangs just before the explosion which could indicate they were deliberate explosions,” he said of the incident in the Ukraine’s Poltava region.

The Energy Ministry also suggested there may have been foul play, saying it was “not the first attempted terrorist attack on the Ukrainian gas transportation system”.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow or the rebels who rose up in eastern Ukraine, many of them hoping Russia would absorb the region following its annexation of Crimea in March.

Mutual blame

Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told parliament in Kyiv that Moscow had blocked attempts to reach a deal in the long-running dispute over the price Ukraine should pay for Russian natural gas and Kyiv’s unpaid bills.

“It is part of a plan that envisages a whole series of measures aimed at destroying Ukrainian independence and statehood,” he said, listing the annexation of Crimea, “destabilising” of eastern Ukraine and backing of the rebels.

“They still cannot understand that Ukraine is an independent state, and it is no matter of Russia to define where we should go. And we are going in the direction of the European Union,” he said.

Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the failure to reach agreement, with big differences remaining over the price.

Ukraine has said it will try to restore control of the border with Russia to prevent further violence.

But Tuesday’s explosion was far from the violence in east Ukraine, where border guards said 30 servicemen had been wounded in an overnight mortar attack near the border.

The Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod pipeline, which was hit by the blast, is the main transit route for Russian gas to the EU via Ukraine. Police said the blast on the pipeline happened about two metres below ground.

Ukrainian state-run gas transport monopoly Ukrtransgaz said there was no disruption to the gas flow. Emergency services said the blast was caused by the pipeline becoming depressurised, though it did not say what had caused that to happen.

In Moscow, the Rossiya-24 channel said its Russian reporter Igor Konelyuk and sound engineer Anton Voloshin were killed when their position was shelled in clashes near the eastern city of Luhansk.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the deaths showed the “criminal nature” of a military operation launched against the rebels by the Ukrainian government and urged the authorities in Kyiv to investigate. 

Ceasefire?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko discussed a possible ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and the deaths of the two Russian journalists, in a late night telephone conversation, the Kremlin said.

The conversation “touched on the theme of a possible ceasefire in the area of military action in southeastern Ukraine”, the Kremlin said in a statement.

It also said Putin had expressed his concern over the deaths of the two Russian state television journalists.

Poroshenko expressed his condolences and assured Putin there would be an investigation and measures would be taken to protect journalists.

Background

Russia’s gas export monopoly Gazprom sells its gas to EU clients under secretive bilateral deals.

An illustration on how Gazprom uses the price of gas as a political weapon was provided in the context of the unfolding Ukraine crisis.

Ukraine was paying Gazprom a price of $400 per thousand cubic metres (tcm) under an agreement signed under former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, back in 2009.

Moscow dropped the price to $268.50 after then-President Viktor Yanukovich turned his back on a trade and association agreement with the European Union last year, but reinstated the original price after he was ousted in February.

Ukraine insists on a price of $268.50 per tcm while Russia has offered to cut the price to $385, by introducing a ‘discount’ of $100 per tcm. Ukraine says the discount is political and could be revoked at any time.

The European Commission has proposed a future price that would take the form of a spread, consisting of a summer and a winter price. The winter price would be $385 USD per tcm, and the summer price would be $300 or a few dollars more.

Ukraine suspects that Russia simply doesn’t want a deal and uses the talks to promote the South Stream gas pipeline, which is planned to bypass Ukraine [read more]. 

Further Reading