Ukraine still receives energy supplies from Russia despite the war raging in eastern Ukraine that Kiev accuses Moscow of instigating in order to destabilise the Ukrainian state.
The country is a large consumer of Russian gas, but it is also a key transit state, with its territory criss-crossed by pipelines taking gas westwards. Europe depends on Russia for about a third of its energy needs, with about half of that coming via Ukraine.
Russian energy giant Gazprom said it may be forced to stop supplies to Ukraine in two days if the outstanding bill goes unpaid, raising the possibility of a repeat of the disruption to supplies experienced by countries on the EU’s eastern flank the last time Russia turned off the taps in January 2009.
Europe also experienced shortages in 2006 when an early dispute between Russia and Ukraine prompted Moscow to halt supplies.
This time Gazprom says Naftogaz, Ukraine’s gas company, has fallen behind on advance payments for gas, and only has two days of supplies left.
“There is only 219 million cubic metres of prepaid gas left. It takes approximately two days to transfer money from Naftogaz’s account to Gazprom’s account,” said Alexei Miller, Gazprom’s CEO, adding that unless the money arrives there will be a “complete cessation” of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine in just two days.
“It creates serious risks for gas transit to Europe,” he continued.
Moving to quell fears of shortages, the European Commission said it was confident that Europe would avoid any problems.
“At the moment, gas flows to the EU are normal and we expect that the gas transit to the EU will not be affected,” said Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, the European Commission spokeswoman.
Naftogaz responded to Gazprom’s threats by accusing the Russian gas company of failing to deliver the agreed amount of gas.
“We do not consider it possible to make an additional advance payment for the supply of Russian gas until it receives sufficient assurance of strict compliance with the contract by Gazprom,” the company said in a statement.
“Gazprom has given no explanation regarding the violation of their contract obligations. Naftogaz is waiting for an official explanation from the Russian side.”
The threat to turn off the taps appears linked to an argument between Kiev and Moscow over who should pay the gas bill for areas controlled by Moscow-backed rebels.