Ukraine: threat from Russia will remain

A convoy of Ukrainian troops yesterday including heavy weapons. Picture: AP
A convoy of Ukrainian troops yesterday including heavy weapons. Picture: AP
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UKRAINE’S president Petro 
Poroshenko has said a “military threat from the east” will remain even if a ceasefire holds between government troops and pro-Russian rebels.

Mr Poroshenko’s warning is widely seen as an indirect reference to Russia.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of helping the rebels with weapons and soldiers – a claim denied by Moscow.

Ukraine’s military said yesterday that three soldiers had been killed in the past 24 hours despite the truce.

A Ukrainian military spokesman said another seven soldiers were wounded.

That followed 48 hours during which the Ukrainian military said it had suffered no deaths, boosting hopes that the ceasefire might hold.

Both Ukraine and the rebels say they are now withdrawing their heavy weapons from the frontline under the terms of the ceasefire agreed in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

It comes as cash-strapped Ukraine sought to buy time in its effort to ensure continued gas supplies from Russia.

It made a $15 million (£9.7m) payment to Moscow as it waits for international rescue loans to arrive.

But Russia said the sum will cover only an additional day, meaning the gas could be cut off on Tuesday.

That increases the pressure on Ukraine to strike a deal at a meeting with Russian officials in Brussels on Monday – a showdown that comes amid rising fears in Europe that energy supplies could be threatened by a shutdown to Kiev.

With Ukraine’s economy on the brink of collapse and money from a €15.5bn bailout deal from the International Monetary Fund not yet reaching Ukrainian coffers, it is unclear how capable – or how willing – Kiev is to strike a long-term deal with Moscow.

Andrei Kobolev, an executive with Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz, said the $15m deposited was an advance payment. Russian supplier Gazprom said it would only buy another day at the current rate of supply.

Following a bruising dispute over prices and energy debt that raised fears of supply disruptions once again in Europe in the middle of winter, Russia and Ukraine signed a deal in October requiring Kiev to pay in advance for gas shipments.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and other government officials warned earlier this week that supplies to Ukraine would be cut off by the end of the month barring further 

Russian energy minister Alexander Novak yesterday said Moscow would continue gas deliveries to Europe even in the event of a cut-off to Ukraine, but could not guarantee that Kiev would not illegally siphon off gas for its own consumption.

A similar dispute erupted in 2009, when Russia first cut off supplies to Ukraine and later to Europe, after it accused Kiev of siphoning off supplies earmarked for export. That left many households in south-eastern Europe without heating in the freezing winter.

Some European states have attempted to provide Ukraine with gas through reverse flows – by sending Russian gas back to Ukraine after receiving their share through pipelines that travel across the country.

Those states, however, have faced pressure from Russia as a result.

Another roadblock to a deal could be deliveries to Ukraine’s war-torn east, where fighting between Kiev’s forces and Russia-backed rebels has killed nearly 5,800 people since April.