KIEV/GORKI Russia (Reuters) – Russia cut off gas to Ukraine yesterday in a dispute over unpaid bills that could disrupt supplies to the rest of Europe and set back hopes for peace between the former Soviet neighbours.
After the weekend loss of 49 troops when pro-Russian rebels shot down a military transport plane, Ukraine’s new president ordered his forces to retake full control of their border with Russia – saying this could then pave the way for negotiations.
Calling time on weeks of wrangling in talks over natural gas supplies, Russia said Kiev had missed a deadline to repay $1.95 billion owed for previous purchases and announced Ukraine would now only get gas it has paid for in advance.
At the same time, Moscow insisted that Ukraine must let Russian gas flow across the country through international pipelines to Russia’s clients in the European Union – noting a temptation for Kiev to tap into those supplies in transit.
Kiev and Moscow blamed each other for the failure to agree on the price of future gas deliveries and refused to abandon well established positions: Russia offering a discount and Ukraine rejecting that as a tool for political manipulation.
The talks are bound up with the worst crisis between Russia and Ukraine since the Soviet Union collapsed – a crisis that has brought Western sanctions on Moscow, the Russian annexation of Crimea and Cold War-style sabre-rattling along the borders.
Western-backed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, elected last month to replace the Kremlin-friendly leader ousted in February, said yesterday he wanted troops to regain full control of the border with Russia this week. After that, there could be a ceasefire and efforts to come up with a peace plan.