By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW Feb 5 Russia signalled on Wednesday that
it could toughen demands for gas payments from Ukraine if Kiev
fails to fulfil existing agreements, increasing pressure on an
ex-Soviet neighbour gripped by an economic and political crisis.
Moscow is concerned about Ukraine's growing debt for gas but
will not review deals as long as Kiev meets its obligations,
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov,
said on Kommersant-FM radio.
"Of course we are concerned by the growing debt for gas
supplies ... but we hope that our Ukrainian partners will stick
to all the clauses of the current agreement," Peskov said.
Ukrainian energy firm Naftogas said this week that
non-payments by its clients mean it may fail to pay Russian gas
export monopoly Gazprom on time for imports, a bill
the Kremlin-controlled company says has risen to $3.3 billion.
"Gazprom has already announced that the debt is growing and
growing very swiftly, and this causes concern," Peskov said.
"There are contracts ... that clearly state the price of gas
supplies, how it is paid and when. And so if the case of
elementary fulfilment of the existing document, there is no
reason and will be no reason to review anything."
He gave no details. A clause in a 2009 gas contract allows
for Gazprom to seek pre-payment for gas supplies, and
if invoked could increase the risk of a Ukrainian default.
On Monday, Russian newspaper Vedomosti cited a Gazprom
source as saying that the company may ask Ukraine to pre-pay for
gas imports but that no decision had been made yet.
Putin agreed in December to lend Ukraine $15 billion and cut
gas prices, throwing it a lifeline in what the West and
opponents of President Viktor Yanukovich regard as a reward for
scrapping plans to sign political and trade deals with the
European Union and promising to improve ties with Russia.
But Moscow has mixed promises of support with pressure on
Kiev. After Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned last
week in an attempt to defuse sustained anti-government protests,
Putin said Russia would wait until Ukraine forms a new
government before fully implementing the bailout deal.
Peskov repeated Putin's promises to help Ukraine. "Russia
needs to do what it is doing: give aid to its brotherly country
no matter what ... and in no way interfere in its internal
Asked if Ukraine, where pro-European and pro-Russian
sentiment roughly follows a geographical east-west divide, could
split in half, he said: "We would like to believe not."
Peskov went on: "The preservation of Ukraine's territorial
and political integrity is in our interests. We want to see a
single, thriving Ukraine."