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Ukraine calls for new talks on gas deal

UKRAINE needs fresh talks to improve the terms of last week's gas agreement with Russia, a senior aide to President Viktor Yushchenko said on Friday, raising fears of new gas supply disruptions to Europe.

The deal, reached by Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, came as a relief for Europe after a two-week cutoff in Russian gas supply but it exposed rifts in Ukraine's leadership.

Tymoshenko would not allow the gas deal to be revised, a senior government official said.

Oleksander Shlapak, Yushchenko's economic aide, said Kiev would call for fresh talks with Moscow to renegotiate the deal on better terms for Ukraine.

"I believe the Ukrainian side must again carefully analyze this agreement ... work out proposals to the Russian side on altering this agreement and begin consultations no later than this summer," Shlapak said.

He said changing the deal was vital to ensure survival of the Ukrainian economy, heading into its worst recession in a decade due to a deepening global financial crisis.

But Alexei Miller, head of Russian gas giant Gazprom, ruled out any revision of the deal negotiated between Tymoshenko and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

"Where does this suggestion of revising the contract come from? A Ukrainian satirical newspaper?" Miller said in Uzbekistan.

Slovakia, one of the countries hit hardest by the interruption of Russian gas supplies, strongly criticized any suggestion of changing the final agreement.

"I consider attempts by Ukrainian President Yushchenko to block the signed contracts from January 19 to be completely crazy," said Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico.

In a commentary in Germany's Die Welt newspaper, Gazprom's deputy chief Alexander Medvedev said reopening talks would only jeopardize European consumers.


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