Ukrainian president defends gas deal with Russia

Ukraine's president on Saturday defended a controversial gas deal with Russia and reiterated that the government would stay in office until March parliamentary elections despite lawmakers' vote to dismiss it.

&to=' target=_blank>Viktor Yushchenko said his country's energy relations with Russia became more efficient after a bruising public fight over the price of gas that ended in a deal reached last week.

Under the agreement, the price Ukraine is paying for Russian and Central Asian gas nearly doubled.

"Our relations with Russia on the gas issue became more predictable, efficient and economically grounded," he said in his regular radio address to the nation.

Parliament this week voted to fire the Cabinet over the hike in the price of gas imports, as Yushchenko's opponents united in condemning the deal for violating the country's interests.

Yushchenko called the vote "illegal" and reiterated that Ukraine has a "fully-fledged" government that would work until a new Cabinet is appointed after the March 26 vote.

He called the gas dispute a "difficult exam on political maturity" and warned that "we faced the threat of losing sovereignty, economic independence and freedom."

Yushchenko pointed out that the price _ US$95 (Ђ78) per 1,000 cubic meters _ was 30 percent lower than what other former Soviet bloc countries were paying.

The outcome of the energy crisis "demonstrated that Ukraine can defend its national interests and be ... a reliable partner," Yushchenko said.

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