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Moscow warns Kiev of threat to Europe's gas supplies

Latest update : 2008-12-04

Russia warned it would cut gas supplies transiting through Ukraine on their way to Europe if Kiev failed to pay the 2.4 billion dollars it owes the Russian energy giant Gazprom.

AFP - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Thursday that Russia would cut natural gas supplies that transit through Ukraine to Europe if Kiev does not pay its bills or siphons gas meant for other customers.

"If our partners do not fulfill their agreements, we will reduce deliveries," Putin said in a televised question-and-answer session with Russian citizens, referring to Ukraine.

He vowed, however, that European customers would get a "detailed" advance warning if such a step were necessary.

Putin reiterated Russia's demand that ex-Soviet republics like Ukraine make the transition to paying international prices for gas from the Soviet-era subsidized rates that they are stil paying.

But Moscow understood that this could not happen overnight and was prepared to continue a step-by-step adjustment, he added. "The transition should be gentle."

Putin said Ukraine still owed Russia more than two billion dollars for gas supplies.

"Indeed, our Ukrainian partners have not yet paid off their debts."

He acknowledged that Ukraine, like Russia and other countries, was facing serious economic challenges in the current global crisis, but said Moscow was in no position to continue subsidising Ukrainian gas purchases.

"How can we leave in place the prices of the current year?" he asked rhetorically.

Then, drawing on a Ukrainian colloquialism -- and speaking in Ukrainian -- Putin added: "Have you lost your mind?"

On January 1, 2006, Russia briefly cut gas supplies to Ukraine amid a bitter dispute on prices, resulting in some shortfalls to customers further down the line and provoking concern throughout Europe.

Date created : 2008-12-04