the press service of the Party of Regions quoted their leader as saying. He also said if he wins the race he will not launch political persecution of his opponents. The Voting Day is January 17, 2010, and Viktor Yanukovych is called a candidate with the highest rating.

Russia and the European Union should guarantee sufficient gas transit through Ukrainian territory in view of their plans to build two pipelines to bypass the ex-Soviet country, Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych has said.

The South Stream natural gas pipeline to the Balkans and the Russian-German Nord Stream pipeline are intended to cut Russia's dependence on transit nations, including Ukraine, which transits 80% of Russian gas to Europe.

Oppositional Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych said in a TV talk show.

"The gas transit system will be needless or will be needed to transit a minimum volume [of gas]," he said, adding "we should immediately start negotiations with Russia and the EU on the guarantees of long term gas transit."

He said Ukraine should demonstrate Russia and the EU that it is a reliable partner, carrying on all of its commitments. "The first thing we must do right after coming to power is to enter into talks with the European Union and Russia about guarantees for the pumping of the contracted volumes of natural gas over a long period of time," he said.

The 25 billion-euro ($36.5 billion) South Stream project is designed to annually pump 31 billion cubic meters of Central Asian and Russian gas to the Balkans and on to other European countries, bypassing Ukraine, which has frequent disputes with Russia over gas supplies and transits. The pipeline's capacity is expected to be eventually increased to 63 billion cubic meters.

The gas pipeline is expected to start operating in late 2015.

The Nord Stream pipeline, which will pump gas from Siberia to Europe under the Baltic Sea, bypassing East European transit countries, is being built jointly by Gazprom, Germany's E.ON Ruhrgas and BASF-Wintershall, and Dutch gas transportation firm Gasunie at an estimated cost of $12 billion. Construction is scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2010.


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