Ukraine cancels classes over Russia gas boycott


Kiev (AFP)

Ukraine on Friday urged schools to close and factories to cut production after Russia refused to restart natural gas supplies, putting the nation in the delicate situation of letting residents shiver to save on gas supplies.

Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine were supposed to restart on Thursday following a foreign court ruling aimed at ending years of disputes between Kiev and Moscow, including two halts to Russian gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine.

But Russia's Gazprom gas giant unexpectedly refused to resume deliveries, returning the prepayment for supplies made by Kiev, claiming amendments to a contract had not been completed.

The decision coincided with freezing temperatures all over Ukraine, and the government called on Friday for measures to reduce consumption.

"Starting today, we recommended ... to stop the work of kindergartens, schools and universities," energy minister Igor Nasalyk told lawmakers.

And he urged Ukrainian companies to adjust their operations to save gas.

Power companies were ordered to switch from gas to fuel oil where possible.

Nasalyk said these savings measures would be in effect until Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to rise.

A ruling by the Stockholm arbitration court last year was meant to halt disputes over gas prices and shipments, which had often been a proxy for political disputes between Moscow and Kiev.

The court set a price and ordered Kiev to resume purchases it had cancelled after Russian annexed the Crimea from Ukraine.

Ukraine's national gas company Naftogaz said Friday that Gazprom had not only refused to resume deliveries meant for it, but lowered the pressure in gas pipelines by 20 percent and minimised gas sales to other customers.

Gazprom was trying to portray Ukraine in a negative light and suggest that it was willing either to let its own population freeze or make it out to be "an unreliable transit company that takes the gas away" from European countries, the company said in a statement.

Gazprom is a major gas supplier to Europe, but still relies to a certain extent on pipelines that transit through Ukraine.