A number of European countries have already begun counting the cost of Russia’s decision to cut gas supplies to Ukraine. The action has brought an energy dispute between the two countries to a head. The row centres on Ukraine’s refusal to sign a new contract requiring it to pay four times the current price for Russian gas.
Pipelines to the west run through Ukraine. The EU has said it does not expect shortages but members Poland and Hungary are reporting that deliveries are down.
Moscow maintains it is a purely business dispute but Kiev accuses its neighbour of using its vast energy resources as a political weapon.
For its part Gazprom, the Russian state monopoly, says Ukraine is using dirty tricks.
A spokesman said: “We have information from the ground that Ukraine has started siphoning off the Russian gas supplies destined other European consumers.”
The claim is denied by the Ukrainian government. President Viktor Yushchenko says his country is prepared to pay the asking price but that it should be phased in.
Now Washington has expressed its concerns, saying the cut-off creates insecurity in the regional energy sector. It has also accused Moscow of using its resources to exert political pressure.
But its ordinary Ukrainians who have most to fear.
“Families are suffering because of this disagreement. Each and every family with children suffers. Everyone needs gas. We never thought it would be so painful and so bad,” said one Kiev resident.
Ukraine has threatened to retaliate by raising the rent that Russia pays to use the Black Sea port of Sevastopol as a naval base.
Energy officials of the EU states will hold an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis on Wednesday.