Ukraine to face further gas cuts?
Speaking at the cabinet of ministers on Wednesday the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Yulia Timoshenko, claimed that Russia is trying to exert pressure on Ukraine by means of another gas war.
She also criticised the authorities of some central Ukraine regions where some schools and kindergartens had their gas cut off after Gazprom reduced regular gas supplies on Tuesday evening. She has ordered a criminal investigation into the case.
Much of the gas that Western Europe buys from Russia passes through pipelines crossing Ukraine. The country's gas company Naftogaz has promised not to divert gas meant for European customers for at least two weeks. It says it will guarantee transit to Europe but only as long as it has enough for local needs.
“Naftogaz Ukraine will try its best not to interrupt gas supplies to European consumers despite Gazprom's actions, as long as it does not endanger Ukrainian security and consumers. If pressure continues from Gazprom, our response will be adequate and asymmetric,” said Naftogaz spokeman Valentin Zemlyansky.
Russia's President-elect and Gazprom chairman, Dmitry Medvedev, has asked the Ukrainian President, Viktor Yushchenko, to step up efforts to pay its bills.
In turn, Yushchenko has urged the country's Prime Minister, Yulia Timoshenko, to speed up negotiations with Gazprom.
In mid-February, the gas dispute looked to be settled after the Presidents of the two countries hammered out a deal in Moscow.
However, the consequent visit by the Ukrainian Prime Minister didn't have the expected results. Although Ukraine promised to resolve its $US 600 million debt, Gazprom says it has yet to see the money and therefore had no choice but to cut supplies. It was quick to confirm, though, that deliveries to the EU will not be harmed.
“Gazprom will supply all the gas for our consumers in Europe and we expect Naftogaz to fulfil their part of the deal,” said Gazprom’s spokesman Sergey Kupriyanov.
Despite the reassurances the European Commission said it may call an urgent gas coordination group meeting to be held over Gazprom's latest dispute with Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Gazprom says it is waiting for the Ukrainian side to start negotiations and unless it does, there could well be a further chilling of relations in the future if gas supplies are further reduced.