By Katya Golubkova and Pavel Polityuk
MOSCOW/KIEV March 1 Russia issued several
warnings on Saturday that Ukraine may lose a discount to the gas
price it now pays to Gazprom due to Kiev's outstanding
Russia's state gas company Gazprom estimates
Ukraine's outstanding gas debt at $1.55 billion for 2013 and gas
deliveries so far this year.
"It seems that with such gas payments and fulfilment of its
obligations Ukraine may not keep its current gas discount. The
gas discount agreement assumed full and timely payment," Gazprom
spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Reuters.
Russia's warnings on gas prices come as the bitter and
fast-moving dispute between the two nations over the southern
Crimea region escalates.
A price increase would deepen Ukraine's already dire cash
situation and could lead to a new "gas war" between Kiev and
Moscow as well as interrupt gas shipments to Europe, which gets
around third of its gas from Russia.
In December, Russia agreed to reduce gas prices for Kiev by
about a third, to $268.50 per 1,000 cubic metres from around
$400 which Ukraine had paid since 2009, after ousted President
Viktor Yanukovich spurned an EU trade deal in favour of closer
ties to Moscow.
The deal allowed for the price to be revised quarterly
between the 5th and 10th day of the first month every quarter.
"STUPID" TO EXTEND
The news agency Interfax cited a representative of the
Russian energy ministry as saying on Saturday that Moscow sees
no reason to extend the discount to Ukraine for the second
quarter - because of the outstanding debt.
"If this continues to happen, is there any point in
continuing the existing agreement on gas supplies at discount
prices? No," the agency cited an unnamed ministry representative
"It is important that the proposal for a reduced gas price
is confirmed quarterly. It would be stupid and wrong to extend
it to the second quarter."
Ukraine's newly appointed Energy Minister Yuri Prodan told
reporters on Saturday that the price for Russian gas would stay
unchanged in March but it could jump to around $400 per 1,000
cubic metres in the second quarter if the two sides fail to sign
Ukraine, which has seen its currency spiralling down and
cash and gold reserves falling significantly as a result of the
political protests that led to the ousting of President Viktor
Yanukovich last weekend, is in dire need of cash.
It faces a further $6 billion in foreign debt payments this
year and has asked the International Monetary Fund for financial
assistance of at least $15 billion. Ukraine's newly appointed
leaders estimated Kiev's needs at around $35 billion.
Prodan told journalists that the Ukrainian energy firm
Naftogas is in "active talks" with Gazprom over pricing. Ukraine
consumes about 55 billion cubic meters of gas each year, and
more than half of this amount is imported from Russia.
Previous disputes over gas prices between Russia and Ukraine
in the winters of 2006 and 2009 led to stoppages in exports to
Europe at times when consumption demand was at its peak due to
the cold weather.
Kupriyanov said on Saturday, Gazprom's deliveries in
February were unchanged year-on-year at around 13.1 billion
cubic metres. In January, Gazprom shipped 13 percent more to
Europe than in the same month of last year, he added.
Last year, Gazprom exported 161.5 billion cubic metres of
gas to Europe.
Apart from through Ukraine, Russian gas flows to Europe via
Belarus and two subsea pipelines - under the Black Sea and the
Baltic Sea. Gazprom plans to build another subsea pipeline - the
South Stream - to bypass Ukraine by 2016.