Yushchenko's visit to Kazakhstan was planned months ago and timed to coincide with the opening of the "Year of Ukraine" festivities in Kazakhstan. But the renewed disputes that emerged this week between Ukraine and Russian gas giant Gazprom shifted the focus of Yushchenko's visit to trying to strike new deals for supplies of Kazakh oil and natural gas.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, after a meeting with Yushchenko in the Kazakh capital Astana today, briefly raised Ukraine's hopes. "We clearly understand Ukraine's interest in energy resources and, with its large resources and opportunities to increase both oil and gas output in the future, Kazakhstan can potentially meet this need," Nazarbaev said.
But Nazarbaev pointed out that actually increasing energy exports to Ukraine depends on a third party, noting that Kazakh oil is transported to Ukrainian ports through the Russian Transneft oil-transit system, known as the Caspian Pipeline Consortium. He said that Kazakhstan is ready to boost its exports to Ukraine, but that an agreement would have to be sought with both countries and Russia.
Matthew Clements, the Eurasia editor at the London-based Jane's information group, said before the Nazarbaev-Yushchenko meeting that Kazakhstan was unlikely to agree to anything that might jeopardize Kazakhstan's strong ties with Russia.
"Kazakhstan has a closer relationship with Russia than other CIS states or regional states and I think this has been cemented in recent months by the pipeline agreement between Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia," Clements said. "And I think it shows a favorable point of view from Kazakhstan toward Russia and indeed from Russia toward Kazakhstan."
However, Clements continued, "Nazarbaev has shown a great willingness to be quite open-minded in terms of getting as many gas deals as possible into other countries, for instance pipeline and export agreements signed with China; and he's also been very open to the idea of supplying some degree of [gas] across the Caspian towards Europe."
Nazarbaev did venture to say that a deal with Ukraine that does not involve Russia or Russian companies is at least possible. "There is an alternative way to resolve this issue, and that is to reach the Black Sea via Baku," Nazarbaev said. "We're working to restore the old pipeline that runs directly from Baku to the Black Sea, and Kazakhstan has bought out the deep-sea port in Batumi [Georgia] together with its terminals."
For his part, Yushchenko held out the prospect that Kazakh oil could not only be sold to Ukraine, but also transported through Ukraine to other countries in Europe via a Ukrainian pipeline that begins in Odesa on the Black Sea and will eventually reach the Polish port city of Gdansk.
"The goal of the Odesa-Brody [pipeline] project is to deliver Caspian oil to the center of Europe," Yushchenko said. "So we believe there is no alternative to this project. No existing project has been designed to deliver Caspian oil to European consumers by this shortest way."
Talks between the Kazakh and Ukrainian presidents were reportedly cordial, and Kazakhstan is due to send representatives to an energy summit in Kyiv in May. Yushchenko said the Odesa-Brody-Gdansk pipeline project would be among the top issues on the agenda at that summit.
RFE/RL's Kazakh Service Director Merhat Sharipzhan and Michael Mihalisko of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report
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