Russia's energy minister on Tuesday firmly denied reports that Moscow was ready to compromise with Ukraine on demands that it more than quadruple the price it pays for &to=http://english.pravda.ru/main/18/89/356/16611_Ukraine.html' target=_blank>Russian gas, a dispute that threatens to cut off about a third of the gas that the country of 48 million relies on for heat and industry.
The statement by Viktor Khristenko came hours after Ukraine's energy minister claimed that a compromise had been reached in the tense, politically charged dispute.
President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko spoke by telephone Tuesday evening, Russian news agencies cited the Kremlin press service as saying. The reports said only that "bilateral relations" were discussed in the call that was made at Yushchenko's initiative, but the gas dispute was likely to have been at the top of the agenda.
About a third of Ukraine's natural gas comes from Russia and Ukrainian officials say jacking the price up from the current US$50 (Ђ42) per 1,000 cubic meters could cripple Ukraine's energy-intensive heavy industry and impede the country's efforts to boost its economy. Russia's state-controlled Gazprom gas monopoly argues that Ukraine should pay US$220-230 (Ђ186-194), more in line with world prices and portrays the demand as putting the gas sphere in line with market-economy demands.
The Russian Defence Ministry harbours plans to build a deep-water submersible vehicle to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench