Russian president Vladimir Putin has paid his first visit to Ukraine in nearly two years in a sign that ties between the two neighbours are warming. Relations hit rock-bottom after pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko took power in 2005 and were further tarnished by an energy crisis in January when Moscow cut of supplies to Ukraine. Kiev’s concerns over gas supplies have been revived by the death of the leader of Turkmenistan, one of Ukraine’s main providers.
President Putin said Russia’s Gazprom, which delivers Turkmen gas to Ukraine, had signed long-term contracts with Turkmenistan, and that it would continue to supply Ukraine and other countries. He added that Russia was prepared to increase its supplies to Ukraine if any problems arose with Turkmenistan.
The January gas crisis sent a chill across Europe which relies heavily on Ukraine, a key transit route for Russian gas. Putin’s visit coincides with a last-minute deal between Russia and Georgia. After threatening to cut off gas to Tbilisi, Moscow agreed to supply it with the bulk of its gas, but more than doubled its price, in a move Tbilisi said was politically-motivated. It is hoping to clinch a deal with neighbouring Azerbaijan to cover most of its needs.