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Ukraine's Yanukovich talks flexibility on gas and political foe

Ukraine's Yanukovich talks flexibility on gas and political foe
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Ukraine’s President Yanukovich has hinted that Kiev might be ready to compromise in its long-running dispute with Moscow over gas imports.

It claims the price it pays is far too high, but it has baulked at conditions set by Russia for cheaper gas, such as being obliged to join a Moscow-led trade bloc.

Now Viktor Yanukovich, giving his first news conference for over a year, suggested the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom might rent Ukraine’s pipeline system.

“Our proposal is very simple,” said the president, who is due to visit Moscow on Monday. “The pipeline network would remain state property. Maybe, a future company could rent this pipeline and provide guarantees of transit volume and work on upgrading the pipeline.”

Ukraine did not want to trade its sovereignty, he said, but had to make some concessions to get Russia to review the contract. The price paid for gas at the moment was a “noose around our neck,” he added.

Yanukovich also indicated that he might pardon former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko, a prominent ally of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, both of whom have been convicted and jailed.

In February 2012, Lutsenko was sentenced to four years for abuse of office and embezzlement. His family say his health has deteriorated in prison.

“He’s in a complicated situation,” said Yanukovich. “If the final court of appeal doesn’t release him, I will consider pardoning him.”

Ukraine’s highest court has yet to schedule a date for the appeal.

Members of the “Stop Censorship” civil rights movement donned masks with the president’s face at a news conference to highlight the issue of press freedom.

There have long been complaints of attacks and pressure on journalists. Several have been murdered, or have died in mysterious circumstances, over the past two decades.

An illustration of the tensions that occasionally rise to the surface came when one reporter, Tetyana Chornovil, tried to ask a question about the president’s early career.

She was swiftly removed from the hall. Security staff later said the reason was not the nature of her question, it was that she had spoken out of turn.

After interventions from other journalists and President Yanukovich himself, she was allowed back in.

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