Thursday, January 1, 2009
Russia stops passing gas to Ukraine
Is the latest gas war between Russia and Ukraine just a spat between disagreeable neighbors or is it yet another sign that Moscow cannot be trusted to play nice with the free world? Russia cut off the supply of natural gas to Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, on Thursday in a contract dispute but the timing -- the middle of winter -- left Western European nations wondering if their gas supply would be next. European Union countries receive a fifth of their gas from pipelines that cross Ukraine, according to the Reuters international news service. Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom said the cutoff was due to a dispute over payment and future pricing and that the supply of gas to Europe would not be disrupted, Reuters said. But with the memory still fresh of last August's war between Russia and Georgia, also a former Soviet republic, many observers wondered if Russia was trying to punish Ukraine for its efforts to join the NATO alliance. Moscow previously cut off gas to Ukraine in 2006. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who has come under harsh criticism from Russia over his pursuit of NATO membership, said he wanted to resume talks on prices with Gazprom and that a deal could be reached by Jan. 7. Gazprom initially demanded more than $250 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas but is now demanding more than $400 per 1,000 cubic meters, according to Reuters. Ukraine, which uses close to 30 million cubic meters per day, offered $235 per 1,000 cubic meters. The United States called on both countries to settle their dispute to avoid supply disruptions in winter. "We hope that Russia and Ukraine can resolve their dispute over the gas debt and the terms of their natural gas supply arrangements in a transparent, commercial manner," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a written statement. The EU said existing commitments to supply and ship the gas must be honored.