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Raid of Ukraine gas company escalates political war

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Masked and heavily-armed secret service agents raided the Kiev headquarters of Ukraine's state-owned natural gas company Naftohaz Wednesday, in what commentators see as an escalation of the political war between President Viktor Yushchenko and the ambitious populist Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The fresh turmoil could threaten domestic supplies of Russian gas – pumped through Naftohaz's pipeline system – and possibly even reignite the harrowing midwinter gas shutdown that left 18 European countries literally out in the cold in January.

"It's not between Ukraine and Russia this time, but a consequence of the internal struggles in Ukraine," says Oleksandr Sushko, an analyst with the independent Institute for Euro-Atlantic Integration in Kiev. "But it can have serious consequences, and could badly disrupt the flow of gas."

The raid by agents of the SBU security service, which is controlled by Mr. Yushchenko, seized dozens of documents, including original copies of Naftohaz's supply contracts with the Russian state gas monopoly Gazprom, as part of what an SBU spokeswoman described as a criminal investigation of corruption at the company.

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