Image: Ukraine state gas firm raided
Stf  /  AP
Ukrainian national security service agents raid the headquarters of the country's natural gas company, Naftogaz, in Kiev on Wednesday. The operation came amid a political battle between Ukraine's prime minister, who controls the firm, and the country's president, to whom the national security service answers.
updated 3/4/2009 1:53:32 PM ET 2009-03-04T18:53:32

Masked, armed security agents searched the headquarters of Ukraine's natural gas company Wednesday in a raid that the firm said threatened a deal with Russia over the shipment of gas supplies to Europe.

The national security service is controlled by President Viktor Yushchenko. The gas firm, Naftogaz, answers to Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The two leaders are locked in a political battle that has impeded an effective response to the financial crisis in Ukraine, one of the worst performing economies in Europe.

Serhiy Davydenko, head of Naftogaz's legal department, said the national security service agents were seeking original contracts from a Jan. 19 deal with Russia's gas company.

The deal ended a two-week cutoff of Russian gas that severely reduced supplies throughout Europe after Russia accused Ukraine of siphoning off gas. Most of the gas that Russia sells to Europe transits Ukraine.

No new disruptions?
Davydenko insisted that the possible seizure of documents would not lead to new disruptions in Russian gas supplies for Ukraine and Europe. But he said a local law requires the company to posses the original contracts in order to function.

Naftogaz must pay for February gas consumption by March 7. The company says it has collected the necessary funds, despite huge financial problems. Gazprom said that it was concerned about the events at Naftogaz and hoped they would not derail payments.

Marina Ostapenko, a spokeswoman for the national security service, or SBU, told The Associated Press that the raid was connected to a criminal investigation launched this week into the alleged diversion of some $900 million in Russian gas by officials at Naftogaz.

The SBU's second-in-command, Valery Khoroshovsky, told parliament Wednesday that the officials had improperly taken gas that Gazprom had sold to the RosUkrenergo company in recent years.

RosUkrEnergo was an intermediary involved in Russia's sale of gas to Ukraine. It was eliminated this year as part of the January deal between Russia and Ukraine.

Yushchenko has been accused by political opponents of maintaining improper ties to RosUkrEnergo, which he has consistently denied.

Naftogaz spokesman Valentyn Zemlyansky said there had been no illegal actions by company officials.

Emergency loan from IMF
Yushchenko and Tymoshenko joined forced this week to lobby for a $16.4 emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund to rescue a devastated economy, but the unity ended there.

Video: Gas dispute In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde published Wednesday, Tymoshenko called for early presidential elections and indicated she would run and win. She said that her struggle with Yushchenko will end "not in my destruction but in his political suicide."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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