Russia’s biggest natural gas company is poised to cut supplies to Ukraine in less than a week’s time – if the two sides fail to find a solution in a dispute over prices. In a sign it means business, Gazprom even staged a high-profile rehearsal of how the deed would be done.
Leaders in Ukraine, who came to power after a peaceful revolution, accuse the state-controlled gas giant of being a tool in a Kremlin plan to punish them for Kiev’s new pro-Western course.
But Russia’s foreign affairs minister maintains that politics does not come into it. Sergei Lavrov says it is a strictly economic matter.
The row revolves around Gazprom’s demand that Ukraine pay more for its supplies – much more.
At the moment, the country receives heavily discounted gas from Russia but the firm wants to bring the price in line with world market rates.
In Ukraine the term “blackmail” has been used to describe the situation. President Viktor Yushchenko has dismissed Gazprom’s threat.
Nonetheless Ukraine’s Energy Minister Ivan Vasylyovych Plachkov has explained that the country is willing to increase the amount it pays for Russian gas – provided it is over a transitional period and provided Ukraine in turn receives more cash from Russia for the use of its pipelines in the transit of gas.
Some 80 percent of Russia’s gas exports pass through Ukraine – meaning Gazprom’s threat has strained nerves among other clients.
However the firm maintains that gas deliveries elsewhere in Europe will not be affected.