Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said on Wednesday (27 August) that his government knew of Russian plans to stop gas flows to Europe this winter. The comments are expected to escalate tensions between Moscow and the U.S. and the EU. Russia stopped gas supplies to Ukraine in June over their mutual dispute regarding the price but carried on with supplies to Europe. Prime Minister Yatseniuk said that the situation in the Ukrainian energy sector was “very difficult” adding that “we know of Russia’s plans to block gas transit even to the European Union this winter”. Kiev did not specify how they know about the Russian plans.
In 2013, about 50 percent of Russian gas exports to the EU were shipped through Ukraine. Russia’s giant gas producer and exporter, Gazprom, refused to comment immediately while the Energy Ministry was not available to provide any explanation. Moscow had previously disrupted gas supplies via Ukraine to Europe due to pricing disputes with Kiev in the winters of 2006 and 2009. The 2009 gas dispute occurred when Gazprom refused to conclude the supply deal for 2009 unless Ukraine’s gas company, Naftogaz, pays off its accumulating debts.
The latest gas disagreement between Ukraine and Russia has a lot to do with a bigger standoff between Kiev and Moscow in which ex-President Viktor Yanukovich fled Ukraine following weeks of riots throughout the country. The immediate trigger for the tensions was Yanukovich’s refusal to sign the notorious association agreement with the EU which led to the Euromaidan. Prime Minister Yatseniuk said that the government has been struggling to diversify coal supplies as a response to “Russia and their mercenaries […] bombing and destroying mines”, a claim which Moscow denied.