MOSCOW, April 17 (Reuters) - Gazprom said on Thursday its decision on whether to demand upfront payments from Ukraine for natural gas deliveries would depend on how European leaders respond to a letter sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week.
Gazprom says it is owed more than $2 billion for gas already delivered to Ukraine and is considering insisting on advance payment for further supplies.
Such a move could increase the risk of Russia cutting off supply, which would affect not only Ukraine but European nations that receive their gas via Ukraine.
Putin has sent a letter to the leaders of 18 European countries that buy Russian gas warning that deliveries could be disrupted if state-controlled Gazprom cut supplies to Ukraine and calling for urgent talks to seek a solution.
Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region has set off the most serious East-West rift since the end of the Cold War.
“First of all, we would look at the reaction of European Union and other countries where Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) sent his letter. This is one of the issues which should be taken into account,” Gazprom Chairman Viktor Zubkov told reporters.
“Then we would take the final decision.”
Russia supplies 30 percent of Europe’s total gas needs and pipes around half of the gas it sends to the EU via Ukraine. (Reporting by Olesya Astakhova; writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by Jason Neely)