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Friday, April 11, 2014, 10:58
US warning as Russia may cut off gas to Ukraine
By Agencies

 US warning as Russia may cut off gas to Ukraine

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON - President Vladimir Putin warned on Thursday that Russian gas supplies to Europe could be disrupted if Moscow cuts the flow to Ukraine over unpaid bills, drawing a US accusation that it is using energy "as a tool of coercion".

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told his Russian counterpart on Thursday that Russia could face tougher economic sanctions because of its actions in Ukraine.

The US Treasury said that Lew warned Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov that the United States is prepared to impose "additional significant sanctions'' if Russia escalates the Ukraine situation. Treasury said in a statement that Lew described Russia's annexation of Crimea as "illegal and illegitimate."

In a letter to the leaders of 18 European countries, Putin made clear that his patience would run out over Kiev's $2.2 billion gas debt to Russia unless a solution could be brokered urgently.

Russia has nearly doubled the gas price it charges Ukraine, whose economy is in crisis, since pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovich was overthrown two months ago.  

Putin said Russian exporter Gazprom would demand advance payment for gas supplies to Ukraine and "in the event of further violation of the conditions of payment will completely or partially cease gas deliveries".

That could have knock-on effects for European Union countries, much of whose Russian gas flows in pipelines across Ukraine. "We fully realise that this increases the risk of (Ukraine) siphoning off natural gas passing through Ukraine's territory and heading to European consumers," the letter reads.

Russia meets 30 percent of Europe's natural gas demand and half of this goes through Ukraine.

The United States accused Moscow of using its vast energy reserves to pressure the former Soviet republic. "We condemn Russia's efforts to use energy as a tool of coercion against Ukraine," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

US President Barack Obama, in a phone call on Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, "underscored the need for the United States, European Union and other global partners to be prepared to meet further Russian escalation with additional sanctions," the White House said.

Russian officials say gas dealings with Ukraine are purely commercial and it was forced to move after Kiev failed to meet a deadline on Monday to pay for its March supplies.

REBEL AMNESTY

In Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists occupying two official buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk rejected a government offer of an amnesty in exchange for laying down their weapons.

"We are trying to find a compromise, but the demands put forward by the occupiers are unacceptable. Our aim is to avoid the use of force, but that option remains in place," Deputy Interior Minister Serhiy Yarovy told journalists.

Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk is to travel to Donetsk on Friday to discuss the crisis.

NATO raised Moscow's ire by publishing satellite pictures it said showed a Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border. Moscow said they had been taken last year.

Obama and Merkel in their conversation called again on Moscow to move its troops back from the border region.

A Pentagon representative confirmed that the destroyer USS Donald Cook arrived in the Black Sea on Thursday for exercises with ships from Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.

 
 
 
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