Moscow, Russia | – Russia has followed through on its threat to cut off natural gas shipments to Ukraine, creating even more hostilities between the two countries.
The Russians had given Ukraine a Monday morning deadline to pay nearly $2 billion for past deliveries. When Kiev failed to pay the bill, Russia’s state-owned gas company Gazprom announced it would now only ship gas that is paid for in advance.
Europe is watching nervously as much of the Russian gas it needs passes through Ukraine. It’s also unclear how a cutoff would affect Crimea, which gets its energy and water through Ukraine, even though the region has since joined the Russia Federation.
Despite Russia’s decision, Europe has enough natural gas in reserve to last through December.
This new crisis can be traced to the ouster of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych last February. Before then, Ukraine had received a discounted price for gas in part as compensation for Russia leasing a naval base in Crimea.
The Russians lowered the price again last December to entice Ukraine to remain in the Kremlin’s orbit. But after Crimea became part of Russia and Kiev moved toward Europe, Gazprom backed out of the deal and said it would increase the price.
Though the Russians deny it, it’s not the first time they’ve played politics with gas, having cut off deliveries amid Ukrainian political disputes in the past. This time, a long-term cutoff would come at a disastrous time for Ukraine as the government is broke and needs international handouts to survive.