Putin warns Europe about Ukraine gas debt
MOSCOW (AP) — Vladimir Putin has told European leaders that Ukraine's growing gas debts to Moscow can threaten supplies to Europe, his press secretary said Thursday.
Dmitry Peskov told state news agency RIA Novosti Thursday that Putin "expressed his utmost concern" to European leaders about the growing gas debts of Ukraine. Peskov did not otherwise discuss Putin's message, but said it contained "urgent measures, as the situation requires no delay."
The move is designed to exert economic pressure on Europe, which receives a large portion of its gas from Russia through Ukraine. It raises specters of gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine in 2009, when Moscow turned off supplies to Kiev and other European countries.
Putin has been tightening the economic screws on the cash-strapped Kiev government since it came to power in February, after Ukraine's Russia-leaning president fled the country after months of protest.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that the Kiev government owes Russia $16.6 billion, mostly for missed gas payments. Last week, Russia state energy giant Gazprom said it would be scrapping all discounts on gas to Ukraine, meaning a 70 percent price hike that will add to that figure.
Russia had already eliminated a gas discount it had given Ukraine, arguing that it was tied to a lease for Russia's Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea, a Ukrainian region that Russia annexed last month. And Ukraine has promised the International Monetary Fund that it will cut energy subsidies to residents in exchange for a bailout loan of up to $14 billion. That means gas prices were set to rise 50 percent on May 1, even before the latest salvo from Putin.