KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine on Thursday suggested bringing in European and U.S. companies to help operate the strategic pipeline that carries Russian natural gas across the country to Europe.
The move is part of an effort to revamp the pipeline, which is among Kiev's most valuable assets, and ensure Ukraine remains a key transit country for gas to Europe. Analysts say it's also an attempt to defuse potential claims that Ukraine might be siphoning gas intended for European customers.
Focus on the pipeline has intensified since Russia on Monday halted gas supplies to Ukraine after talks over past debts failed. Russia continues to send gas on to Europe through Ukraine's pipelines but there are fears over whether the flow of gas will continue uninterrupted if Kiev and Moscow remain at loggerheads.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told parliament that Ukraine intends to set up a company to manage the pipeline. Ukraine would own 51 percent of the venture, but is ready to invite Western companies as shareholders for the remaining 49 percent. Ukraine would not sell the pipeline as such, he insisted.
Russia has for years sought unsuccessfully to buy Ukraine's pipeline, which is owned by a state company.
Moscow on Thursday said it wants to be consulted on any decisions affecting the pipeline's management. But it has no powers to stop Ukraine from selling the pipeline or bringing in foreign companies to manage it.