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Last Updated: Friday, 30 December 2005, 16:28 GMT
Russian gas fuels press barrage
Russian demonstrators picket the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow
Feelings are running high in Moscow over the gas dispute

The row over Russia's gas exports to Ukraine has ignited heated debate in both countries, with newspapers seeing it as part of a broader deterioration in relations.

Many Russian newspapers argue that Kiev is to blame if gas supplies are cut.

Meanwhile, a popular Ukrainian website urges its readers to respond to what it calls the Russian president's "holy war" on Ukraine.

Russian anger

Russian newspapers are outraged at Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov's claim that Kiev is entitled to 15% of Russian gas flowing through its pipelines to Europe which, he said, amounts to a transit fee.

The government's Rossiyskaya Gazeta calls the statement "a super-scandalous move" and accuses Kiev of deliberately trying to deepen the row.

"After a series of blackmailing statements by Kiev, nobody was surprised by the failure of another round of talks," the paper says.

Kiev's next move may be withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States
Nezavisimaya Gazeta

"It looks like last-minute negotiations are doomed to fail, just as all the previous talks did, and Gazprom will get every reason to turn off the tap."

'New cold war'

The daily Gazeta believes that Mr Yekhanurov's remarks effectively amount to saying that Ukraine intends to "steal" 15% of Russia's gas.

"Russia and Ukraine could enter the year 2006 in a state of full-scale cold war," the paper warns.

The liberal paper Nezavisimaya Gazeta also accuses Kiev of resorting to cold war rhetoric.

"Ukrainian politicians believe that Kiev's next move may be withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States," the paper says, referring to the Moscow-backed bloc of former Soviet republics.

Political tool

The business broadsheet Kommersant believes that the expected cut in Russia's gas supplies to Ukraine will be President Putin's response to the "Orange Revolution", which swept pro-Western liberal Viktor Yushchenko to power.

While declaring a gas war on three of its partners in the CIS, Moscow has offered gas discounts to its loyal allies
Kommersant

"Actually, Vladimir Putin is right: the authorities in Ukraine cannot remain the Russian authorities' partner, being their direct political opponent," the paper says.

Another commentator in the paper argues that gas supplies have become Russia's tool in attempts to influence leaders in the former Soviet Union. It says Moscow is raising gas prices for three former Soviet republics which have turned pro-West: Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

"While declaring a gas war on three of its partners in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Moscow has offered gas discounts to its loyal allies," the article says.

"Gas prices remain the same for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has developed an ardent love for Russia ahead of the presidential elections in spring next year."

Kiev's view

Reaction in the Ukrainian press to the gas row has generally been more muted.

The pro-presidential paper Ukrayina Moloda points out that not all Ukrainians are happy with the government's handling of the issue. This includes former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who, according to the paper, joined in the chorus of criticism.

But the daily is less than impressed with Ms Tymoshenko's appearance on Russian TV, in which she criticised the Ukrainian government.

"Just a reminder that earlier Tymoshenko regarded such behaviour as sticking 'a knife in the back' instead of rallying around national interests."

But the independent daily Den takes a more optimistic approach to the issue, pointing to what it sees as a silver lining.

"It can be said with a high degree of probability that Ukraine will, at last, address the issue of energy conservation in industry as well as in the housing and utilities sector," the daily argues.

'Holy war'

The popular news and analysis website Ukrayinska Pravda has been a leading critic of Moscow's position in the gas dispute.

It has launched a campaign inviting readers to send messages to President Putin expressing their views on what the site calls "gazavat" - a play on words based on the word Chechens use for "holy war".

"The gazavat launched by Moscow on post-revolutionary Ukraine deserves a worthy response," the site's appeal says.

"Ukrayinska Pravda calls on all citizens not to hold their emotions, feelings and language back, but to write directly to the main ideologist of the war - Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin."

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.




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