Sunday, June 01, 2014

Russia threatens already embattled Ukraine with cutoff of natural gas over unpaid bills

By Michael Birnbaum, WashPost, Published: May 31

KIEV, Ukraine — A new front is swiftly opening in the war over embattled Ukraine’s future: energy, with Russia threatening to cut off natural gas to the country as early as Tuesday.

Russian leaders are prepared to stop crucial gas flows and squeeze their struggling neighbor economically even as Russian citizens take an increasingly open role in the violent conflict in Ukraine’s east.

Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko has promised a newly vigorous effort to combat the pro-Russian separatists who have seized buildings and key cities across eastern Ukraine. But the battle over energy may be nearly as important for the country’s future, with the power to determine how far Ukraine turns to the West and how firmly it remains in Russia’s orbit. The disputed gas debt could be as much as $5.2 billion through the end of May, and Russia wants at least a partial payment by Monday.

Negotiations have dragged for months. On Friday, Ukraine said that it would make a $786 million payment toward the debt, but it was not immediately clear whether that would be enough to forestall a cutoff. Negotiations were to continue Monday, even as Ukrainian and Russian energy officials traded barbs about who was at fault in the standoff.

(More here.)

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