Russia’s state-run energy giant Gazprom on Tuesday announced it was cancelling Kiev’s discount on gas, putting intense pressure on Ukraine’s ailing economy as NATO foreign ministers gather to forge a response to the Russian takeover of Crimea.
The announcement comes a day after Ukraine reported a partial withdrawal of Russian troops from its eastern border, amid other signs that the Kremlin might be ready to defuse the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.
But the fact that Russia is again resorting to its historic tactic of raising Gazprom prices underscores that tensions between Moscow and Kiev remain high.
Ukraine, which needs an international rescue package to stave off the risk of debt default, will now have to pay $385.5 per 1,000 cubic metres of gas rather than the previous rate of $268.5, Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said in a statement.
"The discount will no longer apply," he said. "This is due to the inability of the Ukrainian side to pay for debts from 2013 and realise full payments for current deliveries."
The discount had been agreed between the now-ousted leader Viktor Yanukovich, who was backed by the Kremlin, and Russian President Vladimir Putin in December 2013 as a form of financial aid to the former regime.
‘Self-defence’ groups to be disarmed
With the situation still volatile in the capital Kiev, a member of the radical Ukrainian nationalist group Pravy Sektor opened fire in the centre of the city late on Monday.
Three people were wounded, including the deputy leader of the capital's administration, Bogdan Dubass, the interior ministry said. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the gunman was caught two hours later.
Meeting a key demand posed by both the West and Russia, Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday voted to disarm all self-defence groups that had sprung up across the country during its political crisis.
"The Ukrainian people are demanding order," acting president Oleksandr Turchinov said. "Those who carry arms – besides the police, the security services and the national guard – are saboteurs who are working against the country."
NATO to suspend cooperation with Russia
NATO foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on Tuesday as the defence alliance seeks to reinforce its eastern frontier after Russia's takeover of Crimea, which has sparked alarm about the potential for more territorial grabs.
In a regular two-day meeting of the 28 ministers, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, NATO will confirm the suspension of cooperation with Moscow.
"Reassuring allies is most important for NATO," said Douglas Lute, the US ambassador to NATO, in a pre-meeting briefing.
NATO has not ruled out the possibility of placing permanent military bases in the Baltic countries. This would break a promise made to Russia in the 1990s that it would keep permanent troops out of new member countries that border Russia.
"We cannot do business as usual with Russia," Lute said. "It is clear that Russia has not played by the rules, has not been consistent with our partnership... so we can review our own rules."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-04-01