Russian Gas Update

by Roman Kupchinsky

The European Commission will send a delegation of officials to Moscow and Kyiv in order to ascertain the facts surrounding the latest gas-related tensions between the two neighboring countries the website Ukrayinska Pravda reported on June 4, 2009. The delegation comes on the heels of a statement by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who warned that if Ukraine is unable to pay its gas bills, the transit of Russian gas to Europe could be stopped by the end of June. The delegation’s report will be crucial for the upcoming EU summit to be held in Brussels on June 17-18.

At issue is Ukraine’s May 2009 gas bill which is due on June 7th and Naftohaz’s ability to pay for gas to be placed in underground storage which is shipped to Europe during the fall-winter heating season. These topics were discussed in Moscow on June 2, 2009 during a meeting between Alexei Miller, the CEO of Gazprom and Oleh Dubyna, the head of Naftohaz Ukrayina, but no results of the talks were reported in the media.

The mysterious case of the sale of the Hungarian gas company Emfesz KFT to an unknown company named RosGas based in Zug, Switzerland resurfaced today. The Russian daily Vedomosti reported that Emfesz was sold to RosGas for $1 by its manager, Istvan Goczi who apparently had a power of attorney to do so. Emfesz is owned by Mabofi Holdings which in turn is controlled by Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian businessman who owns 45 percent of RosUkrEnergo (RUE). Russia’s Gazprom owns 50 percent of RUE and 5 percent is owned by Firtash’s partner Ivan Fursin. Emfesz supplied about 20 percent of the Hungarian gas market with gas it purchased from RUE. However, in January 2009 RUE was eliminated from the gas supply chain and could no longer supply Emfesz.

When news of the sale was made public, the British-based organization Global Witness conducted an investigation into RosGas in order to determine who stood behind it. According to their report:

We have been unable to find the company’s office, but have learned that its correspondence address is that of a mobile phone company in the Swiss tax haven of Zug. There is no evidence to suggest that RosGas AG is currently anything more than a shell company. Curiously, the Hungarian Energy Office (HEO) does not seem to know who owns RosGas AG either, despite having rapidly approved its takeover of Emfesz. The HEO said in an emailed response to questions from Global Witness that: “in the resolution we asked for further information in [the] Hungarian language on the new owner’s owner as the full ownership structure was not transparent enough.” A spokesman added that the HEO was seeking information on the “structure of ‘owners’ tree’”, presumably the chain of ownership of the company. RosGas AG is supposed to provide this information within 45 days of the deal being approved. But even if it does not, there is no suggestion from the HEO that its takeover of Emfesz will be cancelled. Instead, the company will merely face a fine.