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Ukraine and Russia are embroiled in a new gas dispute after Moscow sent Kiev a huge bill for gas it commissioned but did not use.

News media reported over the weekend that Gazprom sent Ukraine’s Naftogas a €5.2 billion bill under a ‘take-or-pay’ clause that Ukraine has to pay even if it hasn’t imported the gas.

“Ukraine has paid for the delivered gas in full,” said Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky. “There is no question about that. Regarding the claim, our lawyers are onto it and we’ll deliver a proper legal response. I am sure we will find common ground with our Russian colleagues.”

Ukraine is keen to limit its dependence on Russia for gas supplies. It recently signed an agreement with Royal Dutch Shell to begin tests for shale gas extraction in the east of the country.

Russia’s decision is seen by some as retaliation.

“The Russian government is concerned that Ukraine is delaying its decision to join the customs union, which is a strategic issue for Russia. The main issue is making Ukraine join in 2013,” said one commentator.

The European Commission says it expects both sides to make sure that shipments to the EU remain uninterrupted. It is hoped there is no repeat of the supply crisis of 2009.

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