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EU to fund natural-gas, oil meters in Ukraine after Russia row

The European Investment Bank, the EU's lending arm, aims to support the metering of gas and oil flows at Ukraine's borders under an accord that also encourages the involvement of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. „This is a very concrete cooperation to increase transparency, reliability and safety of supplies,” EU External-Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said at a press conference today in Brussels with Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. The 25-nation EU wants to avoid a repeat of supply disruptions that occurred in January because of a dispute between Russia and Ukraine, which transports Russian gas to Western Europe and consumes the fuel itself. Russia's OAO Gazprom accused Ukraine of siphoning off some of the fuel amid a price argument that led to a temporary reduction in supplies to EU countries including France and Austria. Ukraine, located between Russia and the EU, is split over relations with Moscow and Brussels and is doing a balancing act. Yanukovych took office in August after winning March elections on promises to strengthen ties with Russia and keep the country out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. President Viktor Yushchenko, who won the presidency over Russia-backed Yanukovych in December 2004, says his priority is closer EU links, including membership.

The EU has no plans to permit Ukraine to become a member, said Ferrero-Waldner, repeating the European Commission's years-old position on the matter. The commission is the executive arm of the EU, which is due to let Bulgaria and Romania join in January, is negotiating membership with Croatia and Turkey and faces entry demands from other Balkan nations including Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. „At this moment, clearly there is no membership perspective” for Ukraine, Ferrero-Waldner said. „Membership is not an issue.” The EU aims to work toward a free-trade agreement with Ukraine after the country joins the World Trade Organization, a step that should be possible this year, she said. Ukraine's previous government said it aimed for WTO membership in 2006. Yanukovych echoed comments made yesterday that he is reluctant about Ukraine joining the US-led NATO military alliance, saying no more than a quarter of the country's population supports such a move. Possible NATO membership „has a favorable response in Ukraine of only a small part of the Ukrainian population,” he said today. „We are looking at enlargement of our cooperation with NATO.” (Bloomberg)