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Ukrainian parliament agrees to adopt pipeline law after protest - extended

Ukraine's Parliament agreed to adopt legislation banning the sale of the state-run natural-gas and oil pipelines after the opposition party led by former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko staged a protest demanding the move.

The law was backed by 430 lawmakers in the 450-seat Parliament after the opposition blocked the legislature's platform for three hours today. The proposed law also bans the sale of Ukrainian gas storage facilities, which are state-owned, and it forbids the creation of joint ventures with other countries for managing the pipelines or storage sites. Russia, the world's biggest natural-gas exporter, seeks to manage Ukrainian gas pipelines in exchange for allowing Ukraine to extract fuel on its territory, as Russian officials move to strengthen their regional influence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said February 1 that the „Ukrainian government had made some offers to Russia on the issue,” which Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych denied. „Ukrainian pipelines are the property of the state,” Yanukovych said yesterday. „We are not going to change anything.” Still, First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said Ukraine is interested in „joint management of its pipelines together with Russia” as „it will help to reconstruct the pipelines and to get cheaper gas.” Timoshenko's alliance and another opposition party loyal to the president, Our Ukraine, also demanded that „Yanukovych and his government” report to the Parliament „about the agreements noted by Putin.” Yanukovych and the whole cabinet are at the Parliament today.

Ukraine depends on imports for about 80% of its energy needs, mostly from Russia, and Russia supplies a quarter of European gas, 80% of which is shipped over Ukrainian territory. Ukraine and Russia planned to set up a venture for managing Ukrainian pipelines three years ago. That project fell apart in December 2004 after Ukraine's disrupted presidential elections that made Viktor Yushchenko president provoked the so-called Orange Revolution. Relations between the traditionally close Slavic states soured as Yushchenko moved to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union and turned away from dependence on Russia. Ukraine owns the pipelines originally proposed for the joint venture. They are operated by NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy, the national oil and gas company. Yushchenko has repeatedly said he wants to keep the pipelines in state ownership. Yushchenko's opponent, Yanukovych, who was officially backed by Putin during the revolution and lost a bid to become president in 2004, became prime minister in August after his party won parliamentary elections. (Bloomberg)