The crisis between Moscow and Kiev has deepened, with Russia cutting gas supplies to its neighbour. State-controlled firm Gazprom started to reduce pressure after Kiev refused to pay higher prices.
The Ukrainian government has set up a crisis group to deal with the consequences. The drop in pressure has also been felt in Poland and in Hungary.
Gazprom has in effect accused Kiev of stealing Russian gas that transits across Ukraine towards Western Europe.
Spokesman Sergei Kuprianov said: “From the very beginning Ukraine was seeking a conflict. “The fact that it rejected our proposal means it was planning this scenario right from the start and that it wanted to take gas meant for Western consumers.” Russia offered to postpone the price hike until April if Ukraine agreed to pay market rates after that. The proposal was apparently rejected.
Kiev complains that the Kremlin is using gas as a political weapon, while Moscow says the price increase is motivated purely by economics.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian company responsible for gas transits to Western Europe said: “So far we have fulfilled our obligations to our customers in the EU and we will do everything we can to maintain this.”
Brussels has convened a special session of energy officials for Wednesday to discuss worst-case scenarios.
It comes on the day Russia makes its debut as chairman of the Group of Eight industrialized nations. One of the main themes of its tenure will be the security of energy supply.
Ukraine has in the past received heavily discounted gas from Russia but Gazprom wants to bring payments in line with world market rates – by more than quadrupling the price.
Last minute efforts to resolve the dispute failed.
They included an offer by Russian President Putin to postpone the price rise until April if Ukraine agreed to the new terms. A Gazprom spokesman said that offer was rejected.
The firm supplies 25 percent of western Europe’s gas – much of it via Ukraine. It maintains deliveries to the EU will not be affected. Relations between Kiev and Moscow have been strained since mass protests helped propel Viktor Yushchenko to a presidential election victory – beating a Kremlin-backed candidate.
Ukraine’s western-leaning government complains Russia is using its control over energy resources as a political weapon – something Moscow denies.