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Gas bills

November 3, 2009

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told the European Union to "open its wallet" and help Ukraine pay its gas bills on Monday, intensifying fears of a repeat of last winter's gas supply disruption.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
Putin says the EU should open its wallet - just a little bitImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Prime Minister Putin adopted a characteristically blunt tone on the subject of European gas supplies following talks with his Danish counterpart Lars Loekke Rasmussen Monday evening.

Addressing the rising concerns about a new Ukrainian gas dispute, Putin offered a simple solution: "If there are problems, we ask our partners to help Ukraine. Let Europe slip them a cool billion," he said, "Let (Europe) open its wallet. It has the money."

Putin with Yulia Tymoshenko
Putin is seen as an ally of Yulia TymoshenkoImage: Olexander Prokopenko

The remarks follow Putin's recent warnings that Ukraine may be unable to pay its gas bills to Russia this winter. The unapologetic statements raised the specter of a repeat of January's tense stand-off, when Russia cut off gas supplies to more than a dozen European countries for two weeks in a bitter dispute between Moscow and Kiev.

Owing for October

Russia's Interfax news agency, quoting Putin's press service said: "Putin drew the attention of the EU leadership to signals, including those received via official channels from Kiev, of possible problems with payments for Russian gas supplies."

Ukraine has been hit hard by the global financial crisis. According to the World Bank, it faces a 15 percent contraction of its economy this year. Russia has repeatedly said it is up to the EU to offer Ukraine more assistance, which is being helped through the financial crisis with an International Monetary Fund loan.

The Russian newspaper Vremya Novostei reported Monday that Ukraine owed Russia around $500 million (337 million euros) for October's gas supply, and that this was payable by November 7.

According to Vremya Novostei, the Ukrainian gas company Naftogaz had in recent months repeatedly left it to the last minute to pay its bill to Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom. Naftogaz last week issued a statement saying it would pay for October gas supplies on time.

But on Friday Putin exacerbated the potential dispute by blaming the country's pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko for preventing the transfer of funds.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko
The EU suspects Putin is trying to discredit Ukrainian President Viktor YushchenkoImage: RIA Novosti

He also pointed out that "Russia has already paid for transit of its gas until the first quarter of 2010 - $2.5 billion altogether. We have helped Ukraine."

EU suspects other motives

The EU has expressed impatience with Putin's comments, saying they should be seen as an intervention in the upcoming Ukrainian presidential election campaign.

Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is running against arch-foe Yushchenko as well as the more pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich in the poll, the first round of which is scheduled for January 17, with a run-off due for early February.

Although Russia has cut off ties with President Yushchenko, Putin and Tymoshenko often demonstrate their friendly relations.


Editor.Jennifer Abramsohn