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Russia's Gazprom Shuts Off Gas To Ukraine


Russia has shut off supplies of natural gas to Ukraine. It's part of a price dispute, and it is bad news for the rest of Europe. Many Europeans get close to a quarter of their gas from Russia, and much of that flows through Ukraine on its way to countries further west. NPR's Gregory Feifer's in Moscow and is covering this story. Greg what's the nature of the dispute here?

GREGORY FEIFER: Well, first of all, $2 billion of debt that Gazprom says it didn't get from Ukraine, but mainly the dispute is about the price of gas. Moscow is increasing its rate for gas this year, but it's offering what it says is a discount price of $250 per thousand cubic meters of gas. Now Ukraine says it wants to pay $201. Both countries have been hard hit by the global financial crisis, but Ukraine has already faced power cuts, and it's not clear if it really can pay any more. But I have to say that many also believe this dispute is about politics as well. Russia's often accused of using its control over energy as a political weapon to punish former Soviet states. Relations between Moscow and Kiev have been incredibly low, especially following Ukraine's support for Georgia after Russia's attack last summer. And some believe Russia wants to make life difficult for Ukraine.

INSKEEP: So we have a reminder here of why some people are calling Russia an energy superpower, and maybe they still are even with oil prices dropping again, but that leads to the next question here Greg. If they're cutting off gas to Ukraine, what then happens to the rest of Europe?

FEIFER: It's not clear, as you said Europe depends on Russia for its gas. 80 percent of Russian supplies cross Ukraine to Europe. Both Kiev and Moscow say they guarantee those supplies will continue unaffected, but during the last shut-off of Russian gas to Ukraine, which took place in 2006, deliveries to Europe dropped very quickly. Some European countries in the former Soviet block depend on Russia for up to 90 percent of their gas, so for them it's a very big worry. Gazprom now says it's increased its supplies to Europe to make up for any possible disruptions. But it's also accusing Ukraine of threatening to confiscate European gas supplies, and it says Kiev is blackmailing Europe.

INSKEEP: Any chance this could be over quickly?

FEIFER: Both sides have called for negotiations to resume. In 2006, the shut-off lasted for several days, but I have to say that what's certain is that the longer this crisis lasts, the more attention will again be drawn to Russia's role as a major energy exporter as you said. Relations with the west are low and with pro-western countries like Ukraine, and this will make matters surely worse. And of course on top of that there's the global financial crisis. As I said Russia has been hit hard and Ukraine even harder, and it's really upped the stakes for both sides to negotiate harder.

INSKEEP: Are they really negotiating, Gregory?

FEIFER: They're not negotiating right now. They've - both sides have urged talks to restart. We've heard a lot from Moscow, and what's been really noticeable has been the tough rhetoric against Ukraine. President Medvedev was on television last night attacking Ukrainian leaders. Accusing them of ineptitude and really personalizing the stand-off. And I have to say it certainly looks like Moscow is using the crisis, at least publicly, to hammer the government in Kiev.

INSKEEP: Greg, thanks very much.

FEIFER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Gregory Feifer's NPR's Moscow correspondent. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.