* Gazprom hints gas flows cuts to Ukraine and Europe may be
* Ukraine failed to pay for Feb gas supplies on time -
* The Russian company puts Ukraine's total gas debt at $1.89
By Vladimir Soldatkin
MOSCOW, March 7 Gazprom issued a
thinly veiled warning on Friday that it could stop shipping gas
to Ukraine over unpaid bills, increasing pressure on the new
government in Kiev and its supporters in Europe, which gets half
its Russian gas through Ukraine.
"Either Ukraine makes good on its debt and pays for current
supplies, or there is risk of returning to the situation of
early 2009," Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said.
Gazprom halted gas supplies to Ukraine over unpaid bills at
the beginning of 2009, which led to reductions in supplies of
Russian gas to Europe during a cold winter.
Ukraine's desperate financial position has deteriorated
further in the two weeks since pro-Western protestors in Kiev
brought down Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich, which
prompted Russian forces to seize control of Ukraine's Crimea
peninsular in response.
Naftogas, Ukraine's state energy company, was not
immediately available for comment.
The 2009 standoff resulted in the revision of Ukraine's
contract with Gazprom and a deal enabling Russia's Black Sea
naval fleet to remain at a base in Ukraine's Crimea region for
The turmoil in Ukraine has opened up the biggest rift
between Russia and the West since the Cold War. A pro-Western
government is in place in Kiev, but Russia has said it has the
right to invade Ukraine to protect its citizens - and even
Russian speakers, who are in the majority in the east of
In December, Russia had agreed to cut gas prices for Ukraine
to $268.50 per 1,000 cubic metres from around $400, part of a
bailout package seen in the West as reward for Kiev's decision
to reject closer ties with the EU and turn to Russia instead.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Gazprom have said
already that Russia will abandon the price discounts for Ukraine
as of April because Kiev has failed to pay for gas on time.
"Today, March 7, was the deadline for payments for gas
supplies to Ukraine in February. Gazprom has not received
payments for the debt," Miller said, adding that Ukraine's
overdue gas debt to Russia now stands at $1.89 billion.
"Essentially, this means that Ukraine has stopped paying for
gas. This totally contradicts the provisions of the contract and
international trade practices. For our part, we have always
fulfilled and will fulfil our contractual obligations," Miller
said. "But we cannot supply gas free of charge."
Last year, Gazprom supplied the European Union and Turkey
with 162 billion cubic metres of gas, a historic record, of
which 86 bcm went via Ukraine.
The Kremlin-controlled company has been cutting gas supplies
to Europe via Ukraine as it has built a pipeline called Nord
Stream under the bed of the Baltic Sea directly to Germany.
It also plans to build the 63 bcm a year South Stream
pipeline via the Black Sea to Europe.
Norwegian gas exports surged to the highest levels since
January 2013 on Friday as demand rose in continental Europe due
to fears that Russia may cut gas supplies via Ukraine.
Earlier on Friday, a Gazprom spokesman said Russian gas
transit via Ukraine to Europe remained stable.