Putin: Ukraine gave military aid to Georgia in war with Russia

The Russian prime minister called Ukraine's involvement a 'crime,' but still agrees to a gas contract with Kiev.

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin charged Ukraine with supplying arms and manpower to Georgia during its recent war with Russia, and said if Ukraine's involvement was proven, it would be a "crime."

Russian news and information agency RIA Novosti reports that Mr. Putin made the accusation Thursday during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to sign a new contract on Russian natural gas exports to Ukraine.

The BBC writes that Ms. Tymoshenko said she was confident that Ukraine's involvement in the war in Georgia would not be confirmed. The BBC adds that Putin's accusation "amounted to an attack on [Tymoshenko's] political rival, [Ukrainian] President Viktor Yushchenko," who sets Ukraine's defense policy.

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Reuters reports that despite Putin's accusation, he and Tymoshenko agreed to a new deal to gradually increase Ukraine's payments for Russian gas over the next three years. Kiev, which has been paying Russia roughly $180 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, had been concerned that Russia would require it to immediately start paying market prices, which are more than $500 per 1,000 cubic meters.

The Times of London reports that the Kiev-Moscow talks come amid a power struggle in Ukraine between Tymoshenko and Mr. Yuschenko. The two came to power during Ukraine's 2004 "Orange Revolution," but the government, a coalition of their two parties, has been wracked by infighting ever since. The Times writes that just before the talks, Tymoshenko accused Yuschenko of commandeering her plane to stymie her negotiations with Putin, highlighting one of the key disputes between the two: Ukraine's relationship with Russia.

Russia's influence in Ukraine is not limited to diplomacy. The Chicago Tribune reports that Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula is home to a large ethnic Russian population and a major Russian naval base. Although Crimea's regional government is not separatist, like those in Georgia's South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions, there are concerns in Ukraine that Russia could use a similar excuse to invade Crimea as it did in Georgia.

But one of Russia's concerns about Ukraine looks to be allayed, at least for the time being. Although Yushchenko has campaigned for Ukraine's membership in NATO, The Wall Street Journal reports German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Thursday that Germany would not support giving a membership "road map" to Ukraine or to Georgia this year.

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