Debt threatens gas exports to Ukraine

Inter2MOSCOW. — Russian energy giant Gazprom yesterday warned Ukraine it could cut off gas exports if the new authorities in Kiev did not pay a bill for debt that now stands at US$1,89 billion.“Ukraine has de-facto stopped paying for gas . . . We cannot deliver gas for free. Either Ukraine pays the debt and pays for current supplies or the risk appears of a return to the situation at the start of 2009,” said Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller, quoted by Russian news agencies.

Gazprom in 2009 cut off gas to Ukraine in a move that also left much of the EU without supplies. Europe imports around a third of its total gas needs from Russia.

Miller said that yesterday was the final cut-off date for payments for February’s gas deliveries to Ukraine.

“Gazprom has not received the payment on its account. The debt due has increased and is now US$1.89 billion,” he added.

Turning off gas to Ukraine would punish the new Ukrainian government that took over after the ousting of president Viktor Yanukovych, which Russia has so far refused to recognise.

But it would also hit Europe, which cheered the fall of Yanukovych and relies on Ukraine for the transit of much of the gas that it receives from Russia.

Gazprom has already said it will end the substantial discount that Ukraine receives on market gas prices from April. But the European Union has said it will help Ukraine pay its bills.

The 2009 dispute — which left homes in Europe unheated in a freezing winter — was brought to an end in a deal between Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and then Ukrainian premier Yulia Tymoshenko. — AFP.

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