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Russian Communist Party Threatens Gas Cutoff to Sway Ukraine on NATO Membership

A senior member of the Russian Communist Party says energy should be used to influence Ukraine's decision about NATO membership. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report from Moscow.

About 100 demonstrators, mostly members of the Russian Communist Party, gathered in front of the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow to protest Kyiv's decision to seek NATO membership. Communist parliament members told the crowd the alliance is an aggressor that will make false promises of multi-billion-dollar payments to Ukrainians if they join the western defense alliance.

They said most Ukrainians oppose NATO, and accused Ukraine's leaders of anti-Russian policies that violate what they characterized as ancient bonds of friendship, language, and faith between Ukrainians and Russians.

Parliament member and Communist Party Central Committee deputy head, Vladimir Kashin, later said Russia should apply economic pressure against Ukraine to protect its interests.

The lawmaker asks why Russia's natural gas should not be used as a lever against Ukraine.

"We are obligated," he said, "and will insist and do everything we can to make Ukrainian politicians feel the consequences today." Kashin recognizes that ordinary Ukrainians could be hurt by such a move, but adds that they should elect politicians who serve all people, not just a separate group.

One demonstrator held a placard depicting Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko dressed as generalissimos next to President Bush in a white helmet with NATO insignia.

Ms. Tymoshenko's energy advisor, Oleksiy Hudyma, told VOA the Russian government ended its gas cutoff to Ukraine earlier this year because it could also have hurt consumers in the European Union.

Hudyma says Moscow thought it could use energy to force the Tymoshenko government to make a number of concessions, including its position on NATO and ending the presence of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. He says the tactic failed, making another Russian gas cutoff unlikely.

The energy advisor says Ukraine is prepared to pay world prices for Russian gas supplies, which will discourage Moscow from engaging in gas wars with his country.

Hudyma notes Ukraine's NATO membership is a goal, not an imminent reality, adding that Ukrainian leaders have time to explain the benefits of such membership to a skeptical population in order to win a referendum on the issue.